http://politics.guardian.co.uk/constitution/story/0,9061,893692,00.html

Special report: constitutional reform | Special report: foreign affairs


Inquiry into Blair war powers

Anne Perkins, political correspondent
Wednesday February 12, 2003

The Guardian


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.

The 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.