APPG on Drones submits evidence to the PACAC Inquiry on Parliament’s role in authorising military force

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones has provided written evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) Inquiry: The Role of Parliament in the UK Constitution: Authorising the Use of Military Force’.

The decision to use military force, whether alone or as part on an international coalition is taken by the Government as an exercise of the royal prerogative power.

Parliament has no legal role in authorising the use of military force, however since 2003 Parliament has been asked on a number of occasions to approve the use of military force. This has led some to suggest that the convention governing the use of the royal prerogative has changed to require parliamentary approval.

The PACAC Inquiry seeks to examine the constitutional underpinning for decisions to use military force.

You can now find the APPG on Drones’ submission in full, here on the PACAC website.

The APPG on Drones’ submission makes the following key arguments:

  • It is recognised that the fundamental role of the state is to protect its citizens. This may lead from time to time to exceptional circumstances requiring exceptional action. Balancing this is the need in our society for the highest possible degree of democratic consent, therefore Parliament should have a strong and central role in the deployment of military force. The authorisation of the deployment of force should come from Parliament in all but exceptional circumstances.
  • This is important because it will engender trust among Parliamentarians, experts and the public, secure democratic legitimacy for policies and actions, and ensure support for UK military action.
  • This practice has been set out in the constitutional conventions on the deployment of force, and on ministerial accountability. However, for any convention to be meaningful, its terms must be well established, and the means to uphold its obligations robust.
  • Currently military capabilities and partnerships are far outpacing the existing procedures for Parliament to be able to have an effective role in approving and scrutinising deployment of military force. This is due to:
    • Inadequate provision of information to committees, and the lack of any body within Parliament to holistically scrutinise all aspects of the use of force – particularly when working with partners.
    • Methods of deploying force that sidestep the need for parliamentary approval, or even knowledge of, military action in places where the UK is not at war.
    • Government secrecy surrounding its policies and working definitions, and its failure to disclose these to Parliament, has led to a loss of confidence in the legality of military operations within civil society, academia, Parliament itself and the general public.
  • In the face of methods which marginalise parliamentary involvement together with a lack of official working definitions, the ability of Parliament to debate, approve and scrutinise UK deployment of military force needs to be strengthened.
  • When it comes to British assistance or aid to, or cooperation or partnership with, allies this lack of parliamentary oversight and accountability may have severe consequences: UK military personnel (including ministers) may be at risk of criminal liability for providing assistance in allies unlawful actions. If the persons targeted are civilian, this can amount to a war crime.
  • As we enter a new era of military operations in which remote warfare and collaborative military operations are likely to become central elements to UK deployment of force, the rapid development of a complimentary legal and oversight framework is crucial to ensure democratic accountability and legitimacy of operations.
  • With these broad aims in mind, the APPG on Drones has set out 18 recommendations aimed at reinforcing Parliament’s role in the deployment of military force, specifically via drones.

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