No ‘War Powers Act’ for the UK

This week, ministers have abandoned plans to have a ‘War Powers Act’ for the UK, which would enshrine in law that the executive must consult Parliament before launching military action.This is brilliant for democracy (Unit 1), Constitution, Parliament and PM (Unit 2).

Typically this power belonged to the PM as ‘royal prerogative’ but after the fiasco in Iraq, Gordon Brown proposed giving the power to declare war to Parliament in 2007. The Radio 4 PM programme summarises it excellent (seriously, it’s 10 minutes, find the time to listen to it!) –

  • Legally, the government doesn’t need the permission of Parliament but there is a convention they will consult Parliament and abide by their wishes.
  • In 2008 Jack Straw pledged to formalise MPs role in this process with some exceptions – “a clear role for Parliament”
  • In 2011, Hague assured Parliament that any fundamental change in missions (in Libya) they would consult the HoC again and enshrine in law the necessity of consulting Parliament
  • April 2016 – the government rejected the 2011 commitment.

The rejection of this as an Act effectively keeps the situation the same – a convention that Parliament will be consulted but power remaining with the PM.

This is really useful to students in evaluating a range of (mostly long-answer) questions and could be used as example in all of these questions:

  • Short answer – sources of the UK Constitution (conventions and statute law)
  • Short answer – Mandate/Doctor’s mandate
  • Democracy in the UK – extent of/democratic deficit
  • How effective Parliament is at overseeing the executive – both Libya and Syria were put to the HoC but only by convention
  • The power of the executive branch/elective dictatorship
  • The need for reform of the UK Constitution – codified vs uncodified
  • The location of sovereignty in the UK/extent of Parliamentary sovereignty