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Justice secretary Jack Straw has unveiled a series of constitutional reforms, including giving MPs a vote before British troops are sent to war.

Speaking as the government published a white paper and draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, Straw told the Commons that accountability was "fundamental to the health of our democracy".

Under the proposals, a report would be presented to Parliament setting out the legal terms of the conflict before troops were deployed.

There would be exceptions in "emergencies" and when "operational secrecy" needed to be maintained.

"It would require the prime minister of the day to seek the approval of this House before deciding to commit forces into armed conflicts abroad," Straw said.

Setting out a "new constitutional settlement", Straw said he wanted to update "how power should be exercised in a modern democracy".

Other reforms would give MPs a say on the general election date, and would see 2005 restrictions prohibiting demonstrations around Parliament lifted.

The Commons will be given more influence over the selection of public officials, and government departments will be allowed to fly the Union Flag whenever they wish.

Straw also said that the relationship between the attorney general and prosecutors would be "re-cast", removing the attorney's power to intervene in individual cases except when they relate to national security.

"The reforms proposed today are a significant commitment to ensure that power lies where it should - with Parliament and the people," he added.

He said the Bill was the "next stage" following the establishment of the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the parliament in Scotland.

"Today is the next stage of that process and of redistribution of power to Parliament and the people," he said.

"In this way the bond between the government and the governed remains strong and the people who bestow power through the ballot box can have confidence in those who exercise it through Parliament."

However, shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said the proposals were "worthy but inadequate".

"Isn't it the case that the relationship between the people and politicians is seriously damaged and that it will require more to repair our broken politics than the measures announced today?" he said.

25 March 2008

 Last updated: 25/03/2008 17:06:00

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