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Volume 600: debated on Thursday 15 October 2015

The role of the Law Officers in relation to military action overseas is to advise as necessary on legal questions, not to authorise the action. The use of drones in military action overseas does not of itself necessarily give rise to legal questions. The deployment of one form of equipment or another rarely does, in and of itself. Whether legal questions arise will depend on the operational context in which any form of military deployment was undertaken, and the reason for it.

Technological development can undermine legislation under all Governments, but particularly under this Government, who seem to have no strategy for it. We need to know that, while the strikes may be made by drones, the decision makers are still accountable to the House. When will the Attorney General establish a clear legislative and ethical framework in relation to future drone strikes?

Again, that is not my role within government, but the hon. Lady knows that the Prime Minister was extremely eager to come to Parliament and explain the basis of the decision to take the drone strike of 21 August, and he did so on the first available opportunity.

In terms of setting frameworks, it is important of course to treat every case on its merits. In relation to the legal position, as in relation to a political decision making process, each instance will be different and each must be considered on its own facts.

The recent drone strike in Syria was described by the Prime Minister as a “new departure” and a first in modern times. The Prime Minister said he is

“happy to look at what other ways there may be of making sure these sorts of acts are scrutinised”.—[Official Report, 7 September 2015; Vol. 599, c. 31.]

Given that any action must be necessary and proportionate to meet the key legal tests, will the Attorney General update us on the discussions between the Government and the Intelligence and Security Committee on reviewing the action and any framework that will be put in place to ensure proper scrutiny in future?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new responsibilities and wish her well in them. I have no doubt that the new Chairman of the ISC will be discussing with the Government what inquiries they wish to take forward. On my engagement in the process, as the hon. Lady understands, the Law Officers convention makes it clear that legal advice is not disclosed outside government, nor in the generality of cases is even the fact of legal advice disclosed, but she knows, too, that in relation to this incident I thought it was right and proper that the fact of legal advice having been given should be disclosed, and it was. I hope she will understand how difficult it is to go any further than that without undermining the good reasons that I believe lie behind the LOC.