Blair's contempt for Parliament
CONGRATULATIONS to members of the House of Lords, who have raised the major concern of voters throughout the country – why isn't Parliament being allowed a full and proper debate on the looming confrontation with Iraq?With MPs skulking in their constituencies this week, peers were left to wonder why the Prime Minister would rather talk to journalists, as he did on Tuesday, than face the Commons.
By Graham Dines
CONGRATULATIONS to members of the House of Lords, who have raised the major concern of voters throughout the country – why isn't Parliament being allowed a full and proper debate on the looming confrontation with Iraq?
With MPs skulking in their constituencies this week, peers were left to wonder why the Prime Minister would rather talk to journalists, as he did on Tuesday, than face the Commons.
Tony Blair's almost dismissive attitude to the people's representatives is not just worrying – it is a direct challenge to the parliamentary democracy that Britons have fought so long to defend.
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Although Government minister Lord Williams told peers – who unlike the Commons have not been on holiday – that they will have a full day's debate on Iraq on Wednesday next week, MPs have so far not been accorded the same right.
Liberal Democrat Lord Wallace of Saltaire insisted Parliament must be kept fully informed and warned: "Any suggestion of avoiding Parliament doesn't help to carry rather sceptical public opinion."
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He pointed out that this week the Prime Minister had held a 90-minute press conference and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made a speech to a London think tank. "It would be rather more preferable if some of these speeches were made to Parliament for an open debate."
Tory peers' leader Lord Strathclyde added: "The Prime Minister is treating this House with the contempt that he has so often been accused of in the past.
"How can people viewing this debate outside possibly become convinced of the case for going to war if this Government won't trust Parliament with the information?"
And that's the nub of the argument. As someone who regards himself as reasonable well informed, I am unable to make a definitive judgement on whether we should bomb Baghdad to a ruin.
I find the Government's presentation of the case for the prosecution against Saddam Hussein totally baffling and its sidelining of parliament outrageous. That MPs should allow themselves to become ciphers, ignored and tossed aside as irrelevant by the Prime Minister and his cheerleaders in the Cabinet is a damning indictment on our system of Government.
Each day since New Year, the House of Commons order paper has contained an instrument entitled War Making Powers (Parliamentary Approval of the Commitment of UK Armed Forces to Hostilities Abroad). Its aim is to give Parliament the opportunity to consider and approve the "exercise of duties vested in HM ministers to commit the United Kingdom's armed forces to hostilities abroad or to a situation where hostilities are likely."
Co-sponsored by three Labour MPs, two Conservative, one Scottish Nationalist and one Plaid Cymru, among the signatories are Essex MPs Bob Spink (Conservative) and Bob Russell (Lib Dem). But the instrument has not been laid before Parliament, presumably under pressure from the Government.
MPs went on holiday last weekend with no plans for a recall to discuss the situation. Instead of being the focus for the nation's concern, Westminster has been cocooned from the real world – war, what war?
It is little wonder that people are disillusioned with politics and politicians and are showing little interest in taking part in elections.
Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, former chairman of the Conservative Party, says the Prime Minister "has worked long and hard to win public opinion, and the number of people who support him is declining. It's declining on the right as well as the left."
Breaking ranks with his own front bench which accepts the line trotted out by Blair, Mr Gummer seems prepared to oppose sending in British troops to action against Saddam, even if the Security Council authorises it.
"The fundamental issue for me is whether this can be a just war. If we are going to go unilateral, you set a precedent for other people which is very frightening, particularly when you fail to address a fundamental issue like the Arab-Israel conflict."