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Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:22 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 3:22 pm, 4th December 2018

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, as always, makes an excellent contribution. It is normally the case that the client has the ability to waive legal advice if they wish, but, in the case of Government Law Officers, there clearly is another layer to that, and their position is of enormous importance.

The Government’s amendment is the correct, cool, calm way to look at this matter. We are in uncharted territory. The very fact that we are all discussing constitutional and historical precedents today means that we all ought to avail ourselves of more time in which to study those in detail so that the Privileges Committee can consider the real constitutional and historical ramifications of any decision we take.

To be honest, there are a number of questions to which I do not know the answer. Does a Humble Address trump privilege? It would be helpful if somebody were to look into that and consider it. I do not think there is a straightforward answer because I do not think it has ever been tested—I may be wrong. My point is that a period of cool, calm reflection on such points would be of benefit to everybody in the House. Further, where does the line fall in terms of disclosure? Is there a question of redacting elements of advice? If so, where does the line fall?

Many Members will be clear that the line falls when we are talking about national security—that is relatively straightforward perhaps—but what about the national interest? It is not so easy to define, but it is something that we ought to consider carefully before rushing into what are extremely serious matters, not just of party politics—although of course there is a big element of that in this—but of constitutional and legal theory and practice that could have profound consequences for any Government. The Opposition ought to be aware that at some stage—I hope not for a long time—they might be sitting on these Government Benches and should consider the position they would wish to take.