MPs and republicans have complained the little-known power to veto or consent to new legislation grants the Queen and Prince Charles unwarranted powers.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
Government ministers have exploited the royal family’s secretive power to veto new laws as a way to quell politically embarrassing backbench rebellions, it was claimed on Tuesday.
Tam Dalyell, the sponsor of a 1999 parliamentary bill that aimed to give MPs a vote on military action against Saddam Hussein, said he is “incandescent and angry” that it was blocked by the Queen under apparent influence from Tony Blair’s government. It also emerged that Harold Wilson used the Queen’s power to kill off politically embarrassing bills about Zimbabwe and peerages.
MPs and republicans have complained the little-known power to veto or consent to new legislation grants the Queen and Prince Charles unwarranted powers and is undemocratic. Detail about its application is only now emerging as a result of a freedom of information campaign by a legal scholar, and the Guardian revealed on Monday at least 39 different laws have been subject to the secretive royal consent arrangement.
Dalyall’s military actions against Iraq bill would have given parliament sole authority to sanction strikes on Iraq, and he alleged Blair’s government told Buckingham Palace the Queen should withhold her consent. The bill was introduced a month after the US and UK operation Desert Fox air strikes against Iraq.
“The issue as far as I am concerned is that Buckingham Palace was used by Downing Street,” said Dalyell. “I don’t blame the palace … this was entirely the handiwork of Downing Street. It was about snuffing out a measure they feared would have a lot of support. It was a sneaky way of avoiding an issue that should have come before the House of Commons.”
Dalyell said he had been contacted by one of the Queen’s aides following the blocking of his backbench bill and he understands the government instructed the Queen to refuse consent in order to kill off a proposal that was gaining Labour support among MPs opposed to military action in Iraq.
That appears to be supported by a Buckingham Palace statement on the application of the veto, which said: “The sovereign has not refused to consent to any bill affecting crown interests unless advised to do so by ministers.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said it would not “discuss any discussions between us and the royal palaces”. Alastair Campbell, the prime minister’s communications adviser at the time the bill was quashed, said he could not recall the case.
Dalyell said he was concerned that the power could be used to prevent parliament from intervening in future war plans through private members’ bills.
“This could happen again,” he said. “The palace has to be very careful not to do the government’s dirty work. They blocked my bill because the government thought they were threatened in the House of Commons. This is relevant today. I was angry then and I still am.”
At least two other bills have been blocked by the Queen, it emerged , both on the advice of ministers who had political objections. The first came in 1964 in the case of the titles (abolition) bill, which was embarrassing to Harold Wilson’s newly elected Labour government, which had a slender majority and did not want any legislative debate about the desirability of titles such as lordships and damehoods.
The other was the Rhodesia independence bill of 1969 which sought autonomy for the African colony which Wilson’s government was opposed to while it was in a state of rebellion. The examples were identified by Professor Rodney Brazier, a legal academic and informal constitutional adviser to the Queen’s private secretary, in an academic paper published in the Cambridge Law Journal in 2007.
Chloe Smith, the Cabinet Office minister, said the Queen and Prince Charles had not vetoed any bills in the past decade, but it remains unknown which, if any bills, have been altered during the consent process. MPs and peers have been calling for greater transparency over the application of the royal powers of consent, but Smith this week told parliament the government would not publish a full account of which bills have been subject to royal consent because it would be too expensive.
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