Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 3:39 pm, 4th December 2018

I must be one of the few non-lawyers to contribute to this debate. However, I am a passionate believer that the conventions of how we as a Government conduct the business of government should be respected, and that these conventions we abide by are there for a reason. We must protect the integrity of the Law Officers in advising the Government. The ramifications of not doing so—the ramifications of publishing legal advice given to a Government—could be hugely damaging. I wonder whether when the other side are in government—as they surely will be one day—they will be as keen as they ask us to be to publish confidential legal advice.

Members are unlucky today, because I was considering withdrawing from this debate, but I did not feel that I could let the comments of Peter Grant pass without remarking on the near-parody of the position SNP Members find themselves in in attaching their names to this motion. Let me take the House back to October 2012 when the then First Minister Alex Salmond was asked by Members of the Scottish Parliament to confirm whether he had sought legal advice over whether Scotland would continue to be a member of the European Union if it was to gain independence in 2014. Notwithstanding the fact that it transpired that thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money was spent to cover up the fact that no legal advice was actually sought, in answer to a question on this very topic to the BBC’s Andrew Neil, the former First Minister said:

“You know I can't give you the legal advice, or reveal the legal advice of law officers.”