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Government unclear on need for Commons approval to arm Syrian rebels

24 July 2013

The House of Lords Constitution Committee today publishes its report on the constitutional arrangements for the use of armed force, in which it criticises the Government’s lack of clarity over the need for a Commons vote before any steps are taken by the UK to arm the Syrian National Council.

The Committee point out that it took the Government a significant amount of time before they committed to a Commons vote on the issue and that it is unclear how the Government would involve Parliament if further military involvement in Syria were planned.

The Committee had heard from members of the Government, including the Deputy Prime Minister, that the question of formalising Parliament’s role was still under review. The Committee supports the continuation of the constitutional convention that the House of Commons is given the chance to debate and vote on possible military action.

However, the Committee says this should not be formalised in law or in a parliamentary resolution. The Committee expresses concern that, at a time when the types of military intervention and the means of warfare are fluid and constantly changing, a formalised approach could limit military flexibility.

The Committee also considered the role of the Cabinet and other Government bodies in decisions to deploy armed forces. The Committee noted the increasing importance of the National Security Council, in contrast to the Defence Council. The report says that full Cabinet is the appropriate body to decide whether to use armed force overseas. It recommends that the Government’s internal arrangements should be set out in detail in the Cabinet Manual.

Chairman of the Committee

Commenting, Baroness Jay of Paddington, Chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said:

“Since our original report into the issue in 2006 a convention has become established that the House of Commons is consulted when military action overseas is undertaken. That is a good approach and to be welcomed.


“However we do not think that the process should be formalised, as we have concerns that with the changing nature of international conflict any definition would be too hard to draw up.


“We were disappointed that, in the context of the current conflict in Syria, the Government took so long to commit to a Commons vote on any moves to arm the Syrian National Council.”

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