Constitutional monarchy and royal assent for government bills
In the United Kingdom as in Australia, parliament is defined as having three constituent parts: the lower house, the upper house and the queen. A bill does not become law until it has been passed by both houses (subject to special procedures for certain bills that may not need to be passed by the upper house. ) and received Royal Assent. Royal Assent is therefore an essential part of the legislative process. It has not been refused in the UK since 1707.
In practice, in neither of the two countries has the Head of State received a ministerial opinion to approve the bills. While there is a common belief that assent is advised at meetings of the Privy Council or the Federal Executive Council depending on the case, this is not the case. It is carried out separately by the Head of State as part of his normal administrative formalities, once the houses have passed the bills.
Indeed, in the United Kingdom, the official words of enactment of a bill state that it is:
- promulgated by the Excellent Majesty of the Queen, by and with the advice and consent of the Spiritual and Temporal Lords, and of the Commons, in and by the authority of this assembled Parliament.
In Australia, the most succinct sentence is: “The Parliament of Australia adopts”.
This position is well illustrated by the controversy over the entry of Great Britain in 1972 into what would later become the European Union. A British subject, Alan McWhirter, argued that the Queen should withhold assent to the European Communities bill as it would hamper the powers of parliament.
The first try The response prepared by the UK government explained that this was a constitutional convention that the Queen cannot withhold assent to bills passed by both houses and that ministers advise receiving assent.
After the legal advice of the Lord Chancellor’s Office that the ministerial opinion is not submitted with respect to Royal Assent, the draft letter has been corrected to indicate that it is an established constitutional convention which :
- Royal Assent is not denied to bills that have been passed by both Houses of Parliament.