report: constitutional reform/bigger>/color>/fontfamily>
| Special report: foreign affairs/color>/bigger>/fontfamily>
/bigger>/fontfamily>Inquiry into Blair war powers
/bigger>/bigger>/fontfamily>/bigger>Anne Perkins, political correspondent
February 12, 2003
MPs are to investigate Tony Blair's power to
declare war and peace and deploy British troops, it will be announced today. The
move is a response to the prime minister's refusal to guarantee a debate and
vote before committing Britain to war with Iraq.
When Mr Blair appeared
before MPs on the joint liaison committee last month, Tony Wright - the chairman
of the public administration committee, which is to carry out the inquiry -
pointed out that George Bush had to get the permission of congress before going
to war. "Why do we have endless debates about whether to kill foxes, but no
debate on whether to kill people?" he asked. Mr Blair told him he saw "no
reason" to change.
The prime minister's war-making powers come from the
royal prerogative, an arcane authority which allows government to bypass
parliament on many major issues. In theory the Queen is the source of
prerogative power, but the doctrine has long been a constitutional figleaf
disguising the actual exercise of the powers by the prime minister.
power of patronage - which ranges from the creation of life peers, the
appointment of the chair of the BBC governors and the award of honours to senior
civil servants to individual ministers' rights to appoint thousands of members
of quangos - will also be examined by the committee.
The committee hopes
to get a detailed description of the workings of the departmental honours
committees which submit names to the prime minister. "Patronage is the lubricant
of the whole system," reflected one committee member. "We need to range widely
over the whole field. And we need to look not just at who gets the honours, but
how they can be taken away too."
Reformers have suggested that MPs could
be given the right to confirm important public appointments, while fixed-term
parliaments would eliminate the power of the prime minister to decide the timing
of general elections.