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Points of Order

Volume 681: debated on Tuesday 29 September 2020

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise what I submit is an important issue concerning the extent and interpretation of the Law Officers’ convention in relation to questions and answers given in this House. On Thursday last week, I asked the Attorney General for information on what support she had had from officials, Treasury counsel and others in relation to the preparation of a statement on the Government’s legal position on to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and the withdrawal agreement, which was published to Select Committee Chairs on 10 September. She declined to give me a substantive answer to that question, relying upon the convention.

I submit that it is very clear from “Erskine May” that the application of the convention is strictly and deliberately circumscribed so as to limit it to protecting the giving of legal advice or opinions by the Law Officers to the Government. I submit that the publication of a statement of the Government’s opinion on the legal position cannot be advice given to the Government, and therefore the convention cannot apply to it. If that be the case, I ask for your guidance, Mr Speaker, on whether the Attorney General was in order in relying upon the convention, and how I might elicit the information that I was seeking.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that point of order, and for giving me notice of it. Ministers are, of course, responsible for the answers that they give, but I can help him in some respects. It seems to me that he states the convention as reflected in the ministerial code accurately. A Law Officer can choose to make their advice public, as has happened in the instance to which he referred, and, as my predecessors have ruled, the rules of the House are in no way involved should they choose to do so, as is stated in “Erskine May”.

It is out of order to ask a question that seeks an opinion on a question of law, but I can confirm that the question that the hon. Member asked did not infringe that rule. He is entitled to table further questions to pursue what he considers to be an unsatisfactory answer. I have no doubt that he will do so with great urgency.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you advise hon. Members whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has given an indication that he will come before the House to make a statement regarding the announcement this morning from the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland that there would be no further prosecutions of soldiers in relation to the events known as Bloody Sunday? The outcome of that has been that campaigners are now indicating, even though it is almost 50 years after the event, that they intend to seek a judicial review into these issues rather than into the murder of police officers three days before Bloody Sunday, even though that has never been investigated or inquired into at all.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to raise this matter. As he knows, that is not a point of order for the Chair, but the House and the Government Front Benchers in particular will have heard what he had to say. I would be disappointed if there is not a statement coming forward on this very important matter. I think it is very, very important to the House, and that information should be coming here.

As there are no further points of order, to ensure the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I suspend the House.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).