Ministry of Justice
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Governance of Britain views sought on strengthening the role of Parliament
A consultation on how Parliament should play a stronger role in approving decisions to deploy the Armed Forces into conflict abroad and on the ratification of treaties was published today.
The Government can currently exercise the prerogative power to deploy the Armed Forces without requiring formal Parliamentary agreement. The consultation paper War Powers & Treaties: Limiting Executive Powers asks for views on how to seek the approval of Parliament when deploying the Armed Forces. It also asks whether this would be best achieved through a new Parliamentary convention or through a mixture of legislation and convention. On treaties, it proposes to put on to a statutory footing Parliament's right to ratify new international agreements.
Jack Straw, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, said:
"One of the main themes of our proposed constitutional changes was that we should examine whether a range of powers exercised by the executive should be limited.
"The deployment of the Armed Forces abroad and how Parliament scrutinise treaties are two issues which are central to strengthening the role of Parliament."
Des Browne, Secretary of State for Defence, said:
"There are few greater responsibilities for a nation than to commit its troops to war. It's right that our service personnel know they have the backing of the country when they go to war. This consultation will look at strengthening the role Parliament plays in deploying forces - where it is practical to do so."
The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said:
"This is an important step in the Prime Minister's commitment to consult on Prerogative Powers. The agreements we make with other countries have an important impact on all our lives. When we go on holiday abroad for example, we can obtain visas, use airports and use medical insurance because there are treaties to make it all work. UK trade is based on treaties, and if you want to work abroad there are treaties that lay out the rules.
"So it is right that we ask how we can best ensure that our representatives in Parliament have a guaranteed, formal role in scrutinising treaties. This would be a real step forward for the renewal of our democracy, and we look forward to an active public discussion of the issues."
The Government seeks to strengthen Parliament by making it a statutory requirement that treaties are laid in both the House of Commons and the Lords before ratification. The consultation paper asks how MPs and peers should be able to trigger a debate, and what the effect of any vote should be.
The consultation, jointly published by the Ministry of Justice, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence, follows the Governance of Britain green paper set out by the Prime Minister in July.
Notes to Editors
1. The Governance of Britain Green Paper was published on 3 July 2007. A copy can be found at http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm71/7170/7170.asp
2. The consultation War Powers & Treaties: Limiting Executive Powers will close on 18/01/08 and can be found at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp2607.htm
3. By allowing Parliament to vote before UK troops are committed to military action the Government would be making itself more clearly subject to scrutiny by the legislature. The Green Paper makes clear, however, that a sensible balance will need to be struck to ensure the Government's ability to take swift action to protect national security is not affected, operational secrecy undermined or effectiveness or morale of the troops prejudiced.
4. The ratification of treaties is subject to a 1924 convention (known as the Ponsonby Rule). This is a non-binding constraint on the Government's powers which "Governance of Britain" proposes to place on to a statutory footing.
5. Two other consultation papers have been published on proposals in the green paper - on the role of the Attorney General, on proposals to allow government buildings to fly the flag continually. They close on 30/11/07 and the 9/11/07 respectively and can be found at: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm71/7192/7192.asp and http://www.culture.gov.uk/Reference_library/Consultations/2007_current_consultations/flag_flying.htm
6. Two other consultation papers were published today - on the future role of the Government in judicial appointments and on protests in Parliament Square. They close on 18/01/08 and can be found at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp2507.htm and http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/about-us/haveyoursay/