Monday, October 31, 2011

The Royal veto

The terms of the constitutional bargain underlying the Westminster system are pretty simple: the monarchy leaves government to Parliament and stays out of politics, and in exchange they get to keep their socks (and their heads). One of the great benefits of the UK's Freedom of Information Act has been exposing how much the royals piss on that bargain, with Prince Charles in particular furiously lobbying Ministers on his pet crank theories. And now it gets worse: it turns out he's being allowed to veto legislation:

Since 2005, ministers from six departments have sought the Prince of Wales' consent to draft bills on everything from road safety to gambling and the London Olympics, in an arrangement described by constitutional lawyers as a royal "nuclear deterrent" over public policy. Unlike royal assent to bills, which is exercised by the Queen as a matter of constitutional law, the prince's power applies when a new bill might affect his own interests, in particular the Duchy of Cornwall, a private £700m property empire that last year provided him with an £18m income.

Neither the government nor Clarence House will reveal what, if any, alterations to legislation Charles has requested, or exactly why he was asked to grant consent to such a wide range of laws.

So, an unelected inbred is getting to dictate legislation to the UK's elected representatives. And the country calls itself a democracy...

But before we get too smug, its worth noting that such a power exists here. Standing Order 304 provides that

No Member’s bill, local bill, or private bill that contains any provision affecting the rights or prerogatives of the Crown may be passed unless the Crown has, by message, indicated its consent to that provision.
And its not just a irrelevant relic. Sue Bradford's Minimum Wage (New Entrants) Amendment Bill, which effectively abolished youth rates, needed royal permission because it changed the statutory powers of the Governor-General (those powers had been granted by Parliament, but that apparently didn't matter). Conceivably, a more active monarch could interfere in a lot more. The only thing that saves us from that fate is that they live on the other side of the world.

This has to change, both in the UK and New Zealand. The government doesn't ask any of us when it changes the law affecting our rights. Why should it ask the monarch? Its an affront to egalitarianism as well as democracy, and it should be stamped out.