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Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:59 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 12:59 pm, 4th December 2018

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Anyone present in the Chamber for the Attorney General’s statement and his subsequent responses to questions yesterday can be in absolutely no doubt that he gave a full and frank exposition of the legal position of the withdrawal agreement. I simply reject any suggestion that the Attorney General has done anything other than treat this House with the greatest respect.

Turning to process, the motion before the House today seeks to find the Government in contempt of Parliament, without having taken the important prior step of referring the matter to the Committee of Privileges, as is normally the case. This is a matter of due process. First, those facing this extremely serious charge of contempt should each be given the opportunity to make their case and to follow the due process of this House. They should be given the opportunity to explain how they have come to their decision about how best to balance the Government’s responsibilities to Parliament with their ministerial duties, including the need to consider the national interest. That opportunity is a vital element of any such procedure, and in this mother of all Parliaments, we are surely nothing if we do not uphold our own constitutional practices in the appropriate way.

The Privileges Committee will also want to consider the question of compliance with the motion in its full constitutional and historical context. The Government would strongly welcome the Committee having the opportunity to consider the more general scope of the motion for the Humble Address procedure, in particular as regards confidential information and the national interest. The Committee could consider these complex matters in a full and impartial way, away from the heat of the present debate and in fulfilment of its parliamentary duty as established by this House. I am grateful to the Chair of the Committee, Kate Green, for the conversation that she and I had today in which she agreed that her Committee would be happy to consider that.

The members of the Committee are accustomed to the consideration of complex and contested issues. That is the very essence of their role. Although it would be for the House itself to reach a final determination on whether a contempt had been committed, it should do so on the basis of the full and impartial consideration of the facts by the Committee of Privileges. I therefore appeal to all hon. Members right across the House that if they seek to pass this motion, they should refer it to the Committee in line with our parliamentary procedures. I urge all hon. Members to support the Government’s amendment.