The Committee will appreciate that we are in somewhat uncharted waters—and in a sense the Government are using that argument. They are saying, "Here we are without a chart. We might think it desperately important to do something immediately and we must be allowed to do it". But we live in a country which is governed by the rule of law, and it is important to go back to those basic principles. The legislation provides that we should give the Government powers which they will not have until they choose to lay an order. So they can act on something which is not the law until they instantly state that it shall be the law and until Parliament has had a chance to consider it.
The Minister said that Parliament may think that it was a good idea and approve it, which is all well and good. However, if Parliament said that it was a very bad idea and disapproved it, it would still remain the law. Consequently the Government will be able to rule absent of anything which is the law in the way that we understand it. We understand law to be either the common law or statutory law, but this will not be statutory law except by completely changing the notion of our statute so as to enable the Government to do what they like. The danger, which we ask the Government to reflect on, is that it will lead to a great deal of concern and lack of confidence.
My noble friends asked whether it would be possible for people to get sensible legal advice on what is likely to happen, and the legal profession and others elsewhere will be racking their brains in trying to decide what kind of circumstances the Government will use. No doubt in coming days the newspapers will come up with some suggestions, and the Treasury may think up suggestions which it has not at the moment passed to Ministers. However, there is a danger of uncertainty in the financial world and there are real strengths in government according to law.
It is questionable whether the problem we are in is due to a lack of powers for the Government immediately to do as they like. It is certainly not my impression that the mess we have gotten into—whether it be partly global, partly local, or partly to do with this country—is a result of the Government not being able to snap their fingers and have something done. There is therefore a strong argument for sticking to our constitutional principles, which are embodied in the European convention. The convention is mentioned as something that we should seek to abide by, at least in regard to property rights and so on—so far, so good—but we must remember that it is in many ways a safety net. Until now we have lived in a country with higher standards than that, and we are proposing to abrogate those standards. That is why we are asking the Minister to think again.