General Houghton made his comments in a new paper from the Society of Conservative Lawyers (SCL), a party affiliated think-tank.
The paper, co-authored by a number of leading Conservative MPs, all of whom are Barristers, including Sir Oliver Heald, Sir Henry Bellingham and Victoria Prentis, says the preferable procedure is that which Theresa May followed when ordering airstrikes in Syria in April 2018.
Any decision to deploy the armed forces should be taken by the Prime Minister under the Royal Prerogative, upon advice from the National Security Council, intelligence agencies and the military, the MPs say.
The paper argues that military deployments should be announced to the Commons as soon as possible after the Prime Minister’s decision, to allow Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise and debate the issue.
The power to commit Britain’s military forces into conflict lies in the Royal Prerogative; the authority of the monarch to exercise his or her will. In modern times the prerogative has been exercised only upon the advice of the Prime Minister, in effect bestowing such power onto the government of the day.
The dispatch of the naval task force to the Falklands in April 1982 was announced to the House of Commons by Margaret Thatcher without a vote. Equally, MPs were informed by John Major of the start of the 1991 Gulf War, and British military activity in Kosovo in 1999 was announced by John Prescott. Neither had previously sought a vote in parliament.
There is no constitutional convention that Parliamentary approval is required before military action can be launched, but Prime Ministers of both parties have in recent years demanded a vote prior to committing the armed forces.
The first such vote was in 2003 on the deployment of British forces to Iraq.
The SCL paper says the Labour government’s action at the time, “is best understood as the administration seeking approval from a wider polity to bolster its position before making a desperately unpopular decision.
“Such a calculation, sprung from the political exigencies of the time, cannot found a convention constitutionally binding on future Governments.”
The Iraq 2003 vote was a “a historical aberration precipitated by the febrile political atmosphere of the time,” it concludes.
The paper says David Cameron’s Commons defeat in August 2013 for military action in Syria following the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime – the first defeat for a Government in relation to military action since 1782 – and its commitment to adhere to the will of the House, formed the main precedent for advocates for a convention.
Transport Secretary Jesse Norman warned against an increased role for parliament: “Ministers can always take final refuge in saying, ‘Well, you authorised it,’” he said.
“Thus, far from strengthening Parliament, it weakens it and the Government: it weakens the dynamic tension between the two sides from which proper accountability and effective policy must derive.”