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Rule of Law: Government

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 10 February 2022

3. What steps she is taking to help ensure that the Government act in accordance with the rule of law. (905575)

The rule of law lies at the heart of the UK constitution and the Law Officers have a particular role in respect of upholding the rule of law. Together with the Solicitor General, I take that responsibility very seriously wherever we are called on to give advice.

On the morning of 8 December, the Attorney General went to Downing Street to advise the Prime Minister after the emergence of the now infamous video of staff in Downing Street joking about parties. That lunch time, the Prime Minister came to this Chamber to say that no parties had taken place in Downing Street and that no covid rules had been broken. Did the Attorney General approve of those comments? If so, was she colluding with the Prime Minister, or did he mislead her?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valiant attempt, but he should be aware of the Law Officers’ convention, which means I am prevented from commenting on the fact or the content of any legal advice provided by Law Officers to members of the Government.

From their early work on Prorogation to the now daily revelations about lockdown-busting parties, this Government have had a fair few brushes with the rule of law. I know the Attorney General cannot comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, but will she tell us whether, when the investigation is concluded and all the 50 email questionnaires come back, anyone found to have breached lockdown regulations, whatever their rank, will face the same consequences as Joe Public did? Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), if there have been breaches of the ministerial code, will there be resignations?

The Prime Minister has made his position clear and I am not going to add any more in the light of the live police investigation. The hon. Lady mentioned the rule of law; fundamental to the rule of law is democracy. I am proud to support this Prime Minister, who has honoured democracy by delivering Brexit and is now leading not just the UK but the world in beating covid. Had the Labour party been in charge, it would have cancelled Brexit, not delivered it, and we would have been in more lockdown, not less. On the big calls, Labour gets it wrong.

Thanks for that peroration but, to come back to reality, this week the Leader of the Opposition was obstructed while entering this House by disorder on the streets outside following the Prime Minister’s inflammatory remarks at that Dispatch Box. It is the Attorney General’s job to advise Ministers, including the Prime Minister, on acting in accordance with the rule of law, so what advice does she have now to prevent his behaviour from leading to any further breakdown in law and order?

All violence is unacceptable, and I am grateful to those police officers who stepped in to assist the Leader of the Opposition. No one should have to endure that experience. The Prime Minister has spoken on the subject; I am not going to add any more to his comments. What I will say is that on the big calls Labour gets it wrong, and on the things that matter, this Prime Minister and this Government are leading us through covid and international diplomacy against Russian aggression.

Was the Attorney General able to read an interesting article this week by her noble Friend, former Conservative Minister Baroness Altmann, warning of a “slippery slope” towards authoritarian rule and an elected dictatorial elite seeking to override Parliament? Whether it is undermining judicial review, shredding human rights protections, endless ouster clauses, restricted appeal rights or tearing up international treaties, none of it is upholding the rule of law. Is not everything the Attorney General is doing putting the Government above the law?

I strongly refute that suggestion. I am not aware of the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but the freedoms and protections that we all enjoy rely fundamentally on the rule of law. I know he understands that: it is an important constitutional principle that demands equality under the law and access to an independent judiciary. The Government are subject to the law. Those are the foundational principles that I adhere to and that I know this Government stick to.