Formal Minutes |
Thursday 20 March 2014
Mr Graham Allen, in the Chair
|Mr Christopher Chope
Mr Andrew Turner
Draft Report (The impact of Queen's and Prince
's Consent on the legislative process), proposed by the Chair,
brought up and read.
Draft Report (The impact of Queen's and Prince's
Consent on the legislative process), proposed by Paul Flynn,
brought up and read, as follows:
1. Consent is at best otiose and at worst a possible
elephant trap that could lead to future constitutional crises.
2. The evidence given to the Committee was remarkably
unanimous in its failure to find any convincing reasons for continuing
with the use of Royal Consent. The only justification was given
on the basis of 'comity'. The great majority of the evidence is
that consent is a piece of anachronistic legislative litter that
serves no useful purpose. Royal Assent is in place and is unlikely
to be changed. It give full powers to the monarchy to stop Bills
that they think are damaging to the country's interests or to
their own interests. There has been no consideration of the use
of Royal Assent by the Committee.
3. Consent now places obstacles in the progress
of Bills and in some cases obstacles that prevent Bills being
considered at all. It wastes the time, money, and skills of clerks
and lawyers and its origins are little understood. No convincing
case has been presented by any of our many witnesses for its continuing
use. 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.
Possibly the most significant Bill was described in internal Whitehall
papers prepared by the Cabinet Office for lawyers. It shows that
on one occasion a bill was not presented to the Queen for assent.
The Bill was in the name of Tam Dalyell in 1999 and it aimed to
give the power of initiating and approving military strikes against
Iraq from the Monarch to Parliament. The Bill was prophetic in
anticipating a situation that has been developed since then by
precedent. Following the vote for the first time in our history
in 2003 on the decision to go to war in Iraq, all parties have
since said they would respect this precedent and that Parliament
would vote on these occasions in future. If a future monarch should
wish to obstruct the will of Parliament on a matter of this magnitude,
I believe it would create a constitutional crisis.
4. Professor Robert Blackburn had stated in his
written evidence that "there is a cost factor in maintaining
this system of Royal Consent." Professor Blackburn added:
"It is difficult to quantify this in terms of time taken
or financial calculation of the support service provided, but
it involves an extensive reading of documentation and letter writing
by officials in the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, the Clerks
of Legislation in both Houses of Parliament, the Queen's Private
Secretary at Buckingham Palace, and liaison with the Queen's Solicitors,
Messrs Farrer & Co."
5. Power to approve or disapprove in defiance
of a parliamentary vote for or against a war would be taken as
an unwarranted interference in the democratic process. The committee
has not looked in detail at the use of the Royal Prerogative which
in almost all cases is delegated to government ministers. The
main report is too heavily dependent on the recent experience
of the present monarch who has been in all known cases inert on
political matters. This is not necessarily a guide for the future
as we might have a monarch with strong opinions who may decide
to express their strong views by declining consent. In our present
democratic age this would be judged to be an intolerable imposition
of a gag on the freedom of MPs - especially back bench MPs.
6. Tam Dalyell's Bill of 1999 anticipated the
present situation in Parliament which was reflected in the vote
of August 29th when the Commons decided not to support a Prime
Minister intent on going to war in Syria. Public opinion today
would probably not tolerate the use of the Royal Consent to block
the express view of a Parliament in matters of such gravity. Parliament,
recently through the Wright reforms and other changes, has become
more open for debate especially debates initiated by back benches
and non government parties. This young Committee has 'Reform'
in its title. Ending Consent is an easily attainable reform that
should be implemented. We would be faithfully reflecting the
recommendations of those who have gone to a great deal of trouble
to give evidence to us. I believe it will have a deleterious
effect on our status and the willingness of future witnesses to
prepare detailed evidence if we disregard the weight of their
7. The arguments in favour of the present proposals
are that they are likely to be acceptable to government and that
they will make life slightly less irksome for Privy Counsellors.
The suggestion that Consent should be continued to remind Parliament
of the three branches of government is not convincing. Royal Assent
does this and there are no proposals to abolish that. There are
also at least a thousand physical reminders in the form of statutes,
paintings and coats of arms that remind members of the role of
the monarchy in our Parliament.
8. Changes to our parliamentary system and our
legislative processes are rare. However there is no plausible
case for maintaining this wasteful and time consuming procedure.
The reform of Consent does not require legislation but merely
needs a motion put to the House such as that proposed by Lord
Berkeley that: 'Nothing in any rule of law, or the law, or practice
of Parliament shall require a Parliament to seek the consent of
the Monarch, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cornwall or the
Prince Regent to the consideration of public bills which pass
9. Finally, the Committee is in an interesting
position in that, as far as I know, the future of Consent has
never before been debated or considered by a Select Committee.
If we fail to recommend a reform, for many years into the future
that decision will be interpreted as approval of the present system.
It will be said that a Select Committee looked at this and found
that there was nothing wrong with Consent. That would be a very
unfortunate impression to give and I believe, a dereliction of
our role as a reform committee.
Motion made, and Question proposed, that the Chair's
draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.(The
Amendment proposed, to leave out "Chair's draft
Report" and insert "draft Report proposed by Paul Flynn".(Paul
Question proposed, That the Amendment be made:Amendment,
by leave, withdrawn.
Ordered, That the Chair's
draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.
Paragraphs 1 to 45 read and agreed to.
Annex agreed to.
Resolved, That the Report
be the Eleventh Report of the Committee to the House.
Ordered, That the Chair
make the Report to the House.
Ordered, That embargoed
copies of the Report be made available, in accordance with the
provisions of Standing Order No. 134.
[Adjourned till 27 March 2014 at 9.00 a.m.