by D.J. Webb
An intriguing article on the Telegraph website claims that the Royal family are regularly vetoing new laws, although the article appears sloppily written, and in particular the writer doesn’t appear to know the difference between the formal casting of a veto and the registering of some kind of objection to a law in advance.
Be that as it may, a Court has forced disclosure of Whitehall documents showing that “at least 39 bills have been subject to Royal approval, with the senior royals using their power to consent or block new laws in areas such as higher education, paternity pay and child maintenance”. Clearly, the writer doesn’t realise that all government bills are subject to Royal approval, and not just 39 of them. But the writer then goes on to state that “internal Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that on one occasion the Queen vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, which aimed to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament”.
Clearly, the Queen did not veto any such bill–as a “veto” would require a bill to pass all stages in both Houses of Parliament, be presented for Royal Assent, and then be vetoed–something that has not happened since 1707. Let us assume that the Queen expressed her uneasiness with the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill, but the government still decided to push ahead an unamended bill that ignored the Queen’s objections–if she were then presented with it for her final consent could she have vetoed it? And if so, why did she not veto entry into the EU, the edifice of multiculturalism, and countless laws unpicking English Common Law and much else?
It seems what we are really dealing with is government pusillanimity–a refusal to press ahead with a policy in the face of Royal objections, thus daring her to cast a formal veto and throw the whole constitution into crisis.
Even more surprisng is the comment that “the power of veto has been used by Prince Charles on more than 12 government bills since 2005 on issues covering gambling to the Olympics”. Let me rush to add that this Telegraph article is written by a young, female writer, and these are generally not the brightest writers. My rule of thumb is that if an article is written by a female, it is almost certain to be humdrum in its contents. Prince Charles has no “power of veto” as he has not acceded to the throne yet. But he might express an objection, which I, if a government minister, would drop into the nearest waste-paper bin, particularly in view of his fanaticism over “climate change”.
The article adds, “in the Whitehall document, which was released following a court order, the Parliamentary Counsel warns that if consent is not given by the royals ‘a major plank of the bill must be removed’”. Hmm–but we are not dealing with a formal veto, and there is nothing constitutionally wrong with Parliament pressing ahead with passage of a bill through both houses and then presenting a bill for Royal Assent they know the Queen has expressed an informal objection to. Parliamentary Counsel is giving quite inaccurate advice here–but it is really a political decision for the Front Bench of the House of Commons whether to press ahead or not, not something to be passed over to Parliamentary Counsel to decide.
I am wondering if we are not dealing with another phenomenon entirely: where the Civil Service and the wider Establishment are uncomfortable with a Bill, they might pretend that a Royal objection is sufficient to cause it to be dropped, thus using the Queen a human figleaf. Yet we have also read that Civil List has been replaced by giving the Royals a percentage of revenue from the Crown Estates under pressure from Prince Charles. Yet the Crown Estates were only passed to the Hanoverians under strict assurances the Coronation Oath would be upheld, and I don’t really agree that any of the possessions of the Royal family are “theirs”, apart from their undergarments, as everything they have can be traced back to the 1701 Act of Succession. Giving this family a percentage of the Crown Estates despite having failed to fulfil the Coronation Oath seems totally unjust.
Maybe they are more influential behind the scenes than is generally realised, and that the rot stops at the top. The Queen seems a passionate multiculturalist, and so there is clear evidence that she sides with the wider Establishment on all key issues. Whether the Queen wields the veto, the prime minister wields it but lacks the strength of character to press it in the face of objections, or the Civil Service wields it in order to prevent policies they support from being introduced is difficult to say for sure. What we don’t have is accountable government any more, and this is why it is time for conservatives to think about abolishing the Monarchy.