Iraq, Parliament and the public interest

By Jill Segger
August 15, 2014

The recall of Parliament during a recess is a signifier that grave matters are afoot. As the debating forum of a democracy, it does more than make decisions – it expresses itself in full view of the electorate it is there to represent.

That electorate is increasingly disturbed about events in Iraq and it is fitting that public disquiet at the calamity unfolding there should be acknowledged, articulated and explored in the chamber of our legislature.

Some argue that unless the Prime Minister intends to commit British troops in opposition to the militants of Islamic State who are now wreaking brutal and potentially genocidal destruction in a country we have done so much to destabilise, there is no need for a recall. But that is to take no account of the fact that there is much which needs to be said.

If the saying is left to the largely unmoderated forum of social media, it is likely to generate more heat than light. The loudest voices are not necessarily the best informed and we need to remind ourselves that violent speech often generates violent action.

The situation in Iraq is complex and any response made by the UK government must be validated by open and accountable discourse. At its best, the House of Commons is capable of this and when the playground brawling and bawling of set-pieces like Prime Minister's Questions are set aside, it can be the site of searching and civilised debate.

That debate will need all the civilising qualities of intellect, conscientious discernment and nuance. The 'something must be done' argument is compelling. What that 'something' might be is another question. From full scale military intervention, through logistical support for US forces and humanitarian aid, to the responses of radical non-violence, there are demanding moral arguments to be made. When these arguments are not heard in the central institution of our democracy, we are deprived of enlargement and understanding. It is a cause of concern that senior politicians seem to be either unaware or afraid of this.

Number 13 in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons makes this provision: “Whenever the House stands adjourned and it is represented to the Speaker by Her Majesty’s Ministers that the public interest requires that the House should meet at a time earlier than that to which the House stands adjourned, the Speaker, if he is satisfied that the public interest does so require, may give notice that, being so satisfied, he appoints a time for the House to meet, and the House shall accordingly meet at the time stated in such notice.”

It is hard to think of anything more in the public interest than the open exploration of past and present policy failures in Iraq, analysis of their consequences and consideration of actions that will bring the least harm and the greatest relief to that distressful country.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: You can follow Jill on Twitter at:

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