'Undemocratic' not to have Commons vote before arming rebel fighters in Syria, warns Speaker John Bercow


It would be undemocratic and inappropriate not to have a Commons vote before the Government decided to arm rebel fighters in Syria, Speaker John Bercow said today.

Mr Bercow said any vote should be on a substantive motion, which in theory would bind the Government to the decision taken by MPs.

His comments came after Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs they would be able to vote on the "issue" but did not say whether it would be on a substantive motion, which Labour MPs had demanded.

Following Foreign Office questions in the House of Commons, Labour former cabinet minister Peter Hain (Neath) raised a point of order to ask whether there was a way MPs could force a vote on a substantive motion before Parliament broke for the summer recess.

Mr Bercow said Labour could table an Opposition Day motion or an individual MP could force a debate and vote through the Backbench Business Committee.

He said: "I must say that I have the sense that the Government is hinting that it wouldn't dream of executing a... decision of the kind that is being considered without first seeking a debate in the House and a vote on a substantive motion.

"That would obviously be the democratic course. I think it is the democratic course on a substantive motion that the Government has in mind.

"I am not sure that there was any other idea ever in their minds but I feel sure that if it was in their minds it was speedily expunged from them as undemocratic and indeed inappropriate."

As Mr Bercow spoke, the Foreign Secretary was seen to be nodding, indicating that he agreed with the comments.

Mr Bercow said Mr Hague's apparent agreement could be seen as an "explicit commitment" that the Government would hold a vote on a substantive motion after Tory MP Julian Lewis (New Forest East) raised a further point of order.

Mr Lewis said: "Is there any way in the rules of order that I can place on the record that the Foreign Secretary was nodding vigorously during your remarks?"

Mr Bercow replied: "You have done that. You and others will take that as an explicit commitment by the Foreign Secretary that there will be no implementation of such a decision without the prior consent, in the form of a vote on a substantive motion, in this House of Commons.

"I think we are now clear. Happiness is universal in the chamber."

Earlier, Labour MP Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) had asked Mr Hague to clarify whether there would be a substantive vote.

The Foreign Secretary said there would be a vote on the issue but did not say whether it would be on a substantive motion.

Raising another point of order, Ms Stuart said that, when the Foreign Secretary sat down after the question, he was "audibly heard by (Labour MPs) to say 'Yes"' - that there would be such a vote.