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Legal Advice (Declaration of War)

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2011

9. What steps he is taking to ensure transparency in the arrangements for the provision of legal advice to the Cabinet on a declaration of war. (63526)

The hon. Gentleman’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee reported in May on Parliament’s role in conflict decisions, and the Government will respond to his report shortly. The Foreign Secretary told the House on 21 March in the Libya debate that the Cabinet had the Attorney-General’s advice before it when the decision was made to take action in Libya. A Government note on the legal basis was placed in the Library that day, and was available to right hon. and hon. Members for that debate.

The Solicitor-General knows better than most of us that there is a separation of powers, at least theoretically, in our constitution, and that the problems that we had over legal advice in relation to the Iraq war centred on the legal advice given to the Government by their own Attorney-General. Will he also take into account that Parliament has no right whatever to consult and get its own legal advice? Will he discuss with the House authorities putting that right, so that on future occasions when there is a conflict, Members can get their own advice rather than relying on trying to wheedle the Attorney-General’s advice out of Government?

It is not for me to stop Members of Parliament getting whatever advice they think it appropriate to have, but the decision that has to be considered and accounted for to Parliament is that of the Prime Minister and the Government. That can be debated here, irrespective of one’s access to legal advice.