Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
MPs voice dissent over Kosovo
The vast majority of MPs still back the bombing of Serbia
A group of MPs has made a symbolic protest against the government's involvement in Nato's bombing campaign against Serbia.
Although the MPs, led by Labour left-wingers, failed to gain enough support to force a vote during a Commons debate on Kosovo they were able to voice their opposition to government policy by attempting to pass a closure motion.
Two Labour MPs acted as tellers for the motion bringing the number of supporters of the motion to 13.
The move is the strongest attack the government has faced so far on its policy on the military crisis in the Balkans.
According to newspaper polls published on Tuesday more than 50% of the public still support the air raids but the number of those undecided over the action has doubled.
Labour rebels, led by former Cabinet minister Tony Benn and Tam Dalyell forced the vote in protest at being denied a full-scale vote on a debate covering the allies' military action.
When asked if Parliament would be able to give its full endorsement to the military action in the future, the Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson told the BBC: "There is no precedent for this, but the House of Commons will be consulted very regularly.
He then explained that Parliament did not have the power to make war.
"One has to understand the constitutional position. Parliament does not decide who takes military action - it is the government who decides that under prerogative.
"That was case in 1941 against Japan, in Korea, in the Falklands and in the Gulf," he said.
Speaking for the Liberal Democrats, their foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said, putting the constitutional issues to one side: "The political requirements demand that you have a substantive motion in the House of Commons".
"If we are asking young men and young women to go and risk their lives for political objectives we ought to let them know that they have the endorsement of the House of Commons behind them," he said.
John Swinney of the Scottish National Party said if there had been a vote on the bombing campaign his party would have voted against the government.
He added that "Parliament's ability to control" military action was "very limited".
Although the Conservatives continue to back the government, some Tory backbenchers made plain their feelings on the issue.
Former defence minister Alan Clark condemned Nato's action in Kosovo as "clumsy", "wasteful" and "shambolic".
He added that the campaign seemed to have "no clear objectives", with little progress being made in any direction.
UK Politics Contents
A-Z of Parliament