A small but wasteful activity is the requirement for Acts of Parliament to receive Royal Assent. Many people may believe that a Bill becomes law when it is passed by both Houses of Parliament. But it is a requirement for every Bill to go before the Queen and receive her approval.
Royal Assent is usually granted a few weeks after the Bill is passed by Parliament. It is presented to the Queen in an elaborate ceremony; her Assent is conveyed back to Parliament by Black Rod at the prorogation.
In theory, Royal Assent is a veto. The Queen can refuse to give Assent just as the President of the USA can veto a Bill passed by both Houses of Congress. But, in reality, Royal Assent is a formality.
Today, if a British monarch even suggested they might block Parliament’s will by withholding Royal Assent there would be Parliamentary and public outrage. This has been the political reality for centuries. Royal Assent has not been refused since 1708 when Queen Anne refused Assent for a Bill about the militia in Scotland. George IV threatened to refuse Assent for Catholic emancipation (a great Gladstonian cause) but backed down in the face of Parliament’s clear will. George V took legal advice on withholding Assent from the Ireland Bill in 1911 but quickly and publicly announced he would not do so. He could see that a monarch thwarting Parliament’s will would destroy the monarchy’s legitimacy in the eyes of most people.
When Parliament legislates on issues of conscience a monarch can be put in an awkward position. In modern times Belgium lost a king who abdicated rather than sign Assent to a Bill that conflicted with his religious beliefs. The monarch is the one person who cannot have “a free vote”.
The times is long overdue to scrap the requirement for Royal Assent and let a Bill becomes an Act when it is passed by Parliament. It would save money by eliminating unnecessary ceremony and whatever civil service and Parliamentary time is taken up by facilitating Royal Assent. The cost of Royal Assent is unpublished. You would not think it is much, but state activity you expect to be cheap always seems to cost a fortune. It might be hundreds of thousands, it might be tens of thousands. Even if it was £1, it is £1 we should save and put into health, education, defence or anywhere it can do more good.
* Antony Hook is MEP Candidate for the South East and has practised as a barrister since 2003. His website is here.