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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The influence of the unelected

Thanks to the Conservative Party the unelected House of Lords continues to exert undue influence on the legislative process. There is no indication that this situation will change anytime soon. However, at least you can see them exercising this influence day in, day out on the television. The same cannot be said for the royal family.

According to today's Guardian Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals' little-known power to consent to or block new laws. They also reveal that the power has been used to torpedo proposed legislation relating to decisions about the country going to war:

The internal Whitehall pamphlet was only released following a court order and shows ministers and civil servants are obliged to consult the Queen and Prince Charles in greater detail and over more areas of legislation than was previously understood.

The new laws that were required to receive the seal of approval from the Queen or Prince Charles cover issues from higher education and paternity pay to identity cards and child maintenance.

In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member's bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.

She was even asked to consent to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 because it contained a declaration about the validity of a civil partnership that would bind her.

In the pamphlet, the Parliamentary Counsel warns civil servants that if consent is not forthcoming there is a risk "a major plank of the bill must be removed".

The Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, Andrew George is quite right when he says that it shows the royals are playing an active role in the democratic process. He wants greater transparency in parliament so we can be fully appraised of whether these powers of influence and veto are really appropriate.
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