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Prorogation (Disclosure of Communications)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:59 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 6:59 pm, 9th September 2019

No.

The Cabinet Secretary, when he appeared before the Procedure Committee, made it clear that this convention that advice should be private has applied to Governments of all parties throughout the history of the civil service. He said that the Humble Address—the particular procedure that we are debating today—has a chilling effect that is to the severe detriment both of the operation of government and the public record of Government decisions. That is the Cabinet Secretary’s view. It is interesting that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said that of the nine people whom he names, only one was a civil servant. Four are civil servants, including the Cabinet Secretary, and he has been clear, as Administrations of every colour have been clear, that they do not disclose this information.

Indeed, sometimes—I listened with care to what the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South said—there are Administrations who say that they do not reveal legal advice even when it does not exist. She told us that if we had an independent Scotland, the rules, procedures and practices in an independent Scotland would set an example to us here. But the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, told the BBC that he had legal advice on the impact of Scotland being independent in Europe, and then, when he was asked to publish that legal advice, spent £20,000 of Scottish taxpayers’ money fighting that and saying that no freedom of information requests should be granted. Then eventually, when the court found out what had happened, there was no legal advice at all. So I will take no lectures from the Scottish National party about trust or transparency.