Prorogation: Supreme Court Judgment

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implications for Government policy of the Supreme Court judgment of 24 September 2019 on the Prorogation of Parliament.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implications for Government policy of the Supreme Court judgment of 24 September 2019 on the Prorogation of Parliament.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implications for Government policy of the Supreme Court judgment of 24 September 2019 on the Prorogation of Parliament.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I cannot comment on the content of Cabinet discussions but, as I told the House last week, the judgment sets out the definitive and final legal position on the advice given to Her Majesty on the Prorogation of Parliament. We are carefully and deliberatively considering the implications of that judgment. We need some time to do it, but a Queen’s Speech is necessary to bring forward a fresh legislative programme, and a short Prorogation, as announced yesterday, is necessary—we are advised to this effect by the parliamentary authorities—for the Queen’s Speech.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

In the light of the Supreme Court’s judgment and the vital role it identified for this House of scrutinising the Executive, what discussions is the Attorney General having with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that we have sufficient time to discuss the proposals the Prime Minister is due to bring forward? How much time will we actually have to debate them?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I know that those matters are being actively considered. I am sure they will be considered in consultation and through the usual channels. As much time as conceivably can be made available will be made available to debate those very important matters. The Prime Minister is making a statement later this morning, and the Government are more than conscious—acutely conscious—of the need for all Members of this House to scrutinise any deal that may be agreed.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

Eight days ago, the Attorney General told the House, in response to a question from Joanna Cherry, that he would consider disclosure of his legal advice on the unlawful Prorogation of Parliament. Can he now confirm that he will do the right thing and release his advice before Parliament is prorogued next week?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I have been considering that question. I am still considering it. I have not reached a conclusion. When I have, I will make sure the hon. Lady is informed.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

If the Attorney General believes in the law, can he confirm that he has discussed with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the electoral offences committed by Vote Leave?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

May I tell the hon. Gentleman that I do believe in the law and I have spent 37 years of my life adhering to those professional values? As for the advice I may or may not have given to any member of the Government, he will know I am bound by the convention. I cannot tell him whether I have. I understand the purport of his question, and I do not criticise him for it in the least, but I regret that I cannot help him as to the content of any advice I have given.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee

I urge the Attorney General to reflect that departing from the norm that Law Officers’ advice is not disclosed should be undertaken only with great care, because of the implications for all future Law Officers and all future advice to Government. Is not the rub of this issue simply this: that, as the President of the Supreme Court said, the circumstances that gave rise to the judgment were a “one off”; the Court was asked to rule on a novel point on which, up until then, legal opinion had varied; it has made a ruling; and the Government accept and will abide by the ruling, as they should with any ruling of our independent courts?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I completely agree with both parts of my hon. Friend’s question. Plainly, the Law Officers’ convention is not a question of personal ownership by any particular Attorney General. It is a long-standing convention that protects all Governments on often extremely sensitive, complex and difficult subjects, sometimes affecting the most important interests of this country. Of course I agree that the Supreme Court’s judgment must be respected. It is final and binding as a matter of law, but it is peculiar to its circumstances.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

Our courts are scrupulously impartial and independent. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment, some unwise voices have suggested that we ought to move to some sort of US-style process of appointment. Does the Attorney General agree that that would be extremely unwise, and will he confirm that there is no prospect of Her Majesty’s Government proceeding down that route?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend, as ever, from a background of practice in the law, feels, as I do, that those kinds of hearings—certainly US-style hearings—would be a regrettable step for us in our constitutional arrangements. The Government have no current plans to do so, but it is fair to say that the implications of the judgment and the continuing development of our constitutional arrangements will no doubt receive, properly, the intense scrutiny of this House.