Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 2:44 pm, 4th December 2018

It was required by the House. Indeed, it was required by the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The point about the 1893 version, which survived for a while, was that the information was provided

“under peculiar and exceptional circumstances”,

but they were peculiar and exceptional in a remarkably similar way to the current case, because the information dealt with international treaties and the relationship between other countries in Europe.

The House must surely be able to require documents. Just as the Speaker is the servant of the House, so in the end, the Government have to bow the knee to Parliament. It is not good enough for the Government to say, “You’re all wrong; you’re benighted; you don’t understand the full implications. We, the Government, are the only people who have seen the whole truth and understand the security implications.” If they want to find some other arbitration method through the processes of the House, such as a Select Committee, that is fine, but that is not what they have done.

In the end, we reach the simple point, which I do not think a single one of my constituents would understand: the Government look as if they are trying to keep something secret; the Law Officers want to say one thing in private, in Cabinet, and another in Parliament. That is not to accuse anybody of hypocrisy. It is simply to say that my constituents would not understand why the Government would want to keep the information secret. I say to Government Members: one day, you will sit on the Opposition Benches and if you vote against this being contempt and therefore against requiring the Government to produce the documents, that power will be gone forever.