Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:32 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons 2:32 pm, 4th December 2018

I will not give way, because I am concluding. It will not take too long, because it is just my one suggestion that I am pursuing. I have made it twice now, so I will not labour it too long.

It seems to me likely that the motion we are debating is going to be carried. There must be a very considerable risk of that. I do not know whether the Chief Whip thinks he has a majority for resisting this motion. Even then, I would hope that we will consider how to do this in a responsible way that does not prejudice the national interest or the interests of British Governments. I would also hope—I am not sure that the Committee of Privileges is the best place to do this, but it was done in the case of the Exiting the European Union Committee, as we have been reminded—that somebody nominated as responsible by the Opposition could have a look at the documents and give the Attorney General the opportunity of explaining why, yesterday, he was so obviously wrestling with a dilemma or problem of conscience about its simply not being in the national interest to put all this in the newspapers. The previous problem was solved by redactions, and I still urge that there should be redactions.

Nobody in the Opposition is going to allow the Government just to hold back things that are politically embarrassing, somewhat at odds with what the Government are now saying or advocating a tactic that the Government in the end chose not to use, and all that. Because we lost the motion for a Humble Address, I fear that Conservative Members have to be braced for that if these documents do come out. However, there is a public interest in not undermining the confidentiality of the legal advice.

I repeat my suggestion. No one knows where we are going in politics, who will be in government and who will be in opposition for very long, but what matters is that this Parliament is not weakened any further and that the ability of Governments of whatever party to rule in the national interest is not undermined. I repeat my suggestion, and I think that if the Opposition are victorious, they should in the public interest consider how far they wish to press it. I am sure that the House as a whole would accept it if they held back in some ways and the Law Officers’ confidentiality was left intact.