My Lords, I came into Parliament nearly 40 years ago and was told first of all that you should never ask a question to which you do not already know the answer. Now that I have been here so long, I feel that I can take the risk of asking some questions to which I do not know the answer, about a very important aspect of the Bill that has just been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
There are two criticisms of the Bill, the first being that it is allegedly against international law. I do not believe that and have not really heard any answers to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bew. What happens when you have two conflicting international obligations? The second criticism is that it relies, very largely and to an almost unprecedented degree, on Henry VIII clauses. Historically, I am very reluctant to rely extensively on Henry VIII clauses, and I was rather shocked by the committee report to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has just referred.
The questions that I want to ask, and to which I do not know the answer, are: first, what is the alternative in the context in which we are to have open-ended Henry VIII clauses; and secondly, why did the Government not adopt that alternative? I assume that the alternative to the Henry VIII clauses is to spell out in detail, in primary legislation, what you intend to do, but the context in which we are doing it is that we are simultaneously legislating and negotiating.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said that we cannot do that. It seems to me perfectly compatible with the doctrine of necessity to do that. We have to do something, we need the power to do something, we have taken the legal power to do something, but we would like that something to be negotiated if possible. So we are simultaneously negotiating and legislating. If we spell out in primary legislation, in detail, the outcome that we want to get, in the context of a negotiation that involves give and take, we either have to spell out the maximum we want—what we want to take without any give—or the minimum we are prepared to accept: what we are prepared to give without any prospect of taking.
In this unusual situation of having to have the legal powers to act while we are negotiating and hoping for a negotiated solution, I am not sure what alternative there is to what the Government have done. I would be grateful to hear what noble Lords would do who share my reluctance to rely on Henry VIII clauses. Effectively, we are saying we are recreating the royal prerogative in the negotiation, giving the Government a free hand, while giving them the power to take legislative action if those negotiations do not achieve a satisfactory result.