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House of Commons Hansard
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Military Action Overseas: Parliamentary Approval
16 April 2018
Volume 639

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

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I rise to propose that this House should debate Parliament’s rights in relation to the approval of military action by British forces overseas. In the light of Friday’s airstrikes on Syria, this House should urgently debate the important matter of the Government’s obligations under parliamentary convention to seek the approval of the House before committing UK forces to premeditated, hostile military action overseas.

The Cabinet manual, published by the Government in 2011, confirms the Government’s acceptance of that convention and guarantees that the Government will

“observe that convention except when there was an emergency and such action would not be appropriate.”

Two years ago, even while reneging on the Government’s previous commitment to enshrine that convention into law, the then Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), guaranteed in this House that the Government would

“keep Parliament informed and…of course seek its approval before deploying British forces in combat roles into a conflict situation.”—[Official Report, 18 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 630.]

Members on all sides are therefore rightly concerned that no such approval was sought by the Government prior to the air strikes against Syrian Government installations, to which the UK was a party last Friday night, alongside the USA and France. Indeed, this House was not only denied a vote, but did not even have the opportunity to question the Government in advance on the legal and evidential basis for their participation in this action, on their new strategy in regard to Syrian intervention, or on why they acted before the conclusion of the ongoing inspection in Douma by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Members will also be concerned that these strikes have been explicitly presented, by the Government and by the United States, as a possible precursor to even stronger intervention against the Syrian regime if that is judged to be necessary. Therefore, the Government’s failure to seek—let alone obtain—parliamentary approval for these air strikes sets a precedent for potential and more dangerous future action, not just in Syria but in other countries where similar situations may arise.

I therefore ask, Mr Speaker, that you allow urgent consideration by this House of the Government’s approach when it comes to the rights of Parliament to debate and approve military action overseas.

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The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24—namely, Parliament’s rights in relation to the approval of military action by British forces overseas. I have listened carefully to the application from the right hon. Gentleman. I am satisfied that the matter raised is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the right hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?

Application agreed to (not fewer than 40 Members standing in support).

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I am most grateful to colleagues for exercising their knee muscles. The right hon. Gentleman has secured the leave of the House. I should inform the House that the debate will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 17 April, as the first item of public business. The debate will last for up to three hours and will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the right hon. Gentleman’s application.

I said to the House a small number of moments ago that I would be hearing two applications for debates under Standing Order No. 24. I now call Alison McGovern to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The hon. Lady has up to three minutes in which to make such an application.