Royal Assent

30.36When bills, either public or private, or Church of England Measures (on which see paras 31.4631.49 ), have been finally agreed to by both Houses, they await only the Royal Assent to be declared to Parliament to give them, as Lord Chief Justice Hale says, ‘the complement and perfection of a law’,1 and assent must be forthcoming.2

When Royal Assent is wanted, the Lord Chancellor submits to the Sovereign a list of those bills which are ready for Royal Assent or which are likely to have passed by the time Royal Assent is to be declared. The list is prepared by the Clerk of the Parliaments.3 An advance copy is sent to the Clerk of the Crown, who includes those bills in the Letters Patent4 by which the Sovereign is to signify the Royal Assent. Bills for granting aids and supplies to the Crown are placed first, followed by other public bills, provisional order bills, private bills, personal bills and Measures.

Care is taken that all bills which are expected to have passed are included in the Letters Patent. Nevertheless, a bill not named in the Letters Patent may unexpectedly pass during the period after the submission to the Sovereign and before the Royal Assent is declared to Parliament. Since there is no authority for withholding from inclusion in the Letters Patent any bill which has passed all its stages, a further submission by the Lord Chancellor to the Sovereign must then be made for the Royal Assent to be given to the additional bill and for its inclusion in the Letters Patent. Similarly, any bill which unexpectedly fails to pass before the declaration of Royal Assent is struck out of the Letters Patent. When the list of bills for Royal Assent is finally settled, the Clerk of the Parliaments signs it to certify the passage of the bills through both Houses, and sends it to the Lord Chancellor. For Royal Assent to bills passed under s 2 of the Parliament Act 1911, see para 30.55.

To avoid untimely submissions to the Sovereign, proceedings on third reading and on Lords amendments have been postponed.5

It is usual for the Royal Assent to be notified to each House sitting separately, by the Speaker of that House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967. But at the end of each session the five Lords who are appointed Commissioners by Letters Patent to prorogue Parliament are commanded by the same Letters Patent to declare the Royal Assent to both Houses together in the House of Lords.6

Footnotes

  1. Matthew Hale Jurisdiction of the Lords' House of Parliament (1796) c 2.
  2. See 2 Hatsell 339; LJ (1675–81) 756 (1681); G Burnet History of his Own Times (1833) ii, p 274; John Campbell Lives of the Lord Chancellors (1845–1869) iii, p 354. But see also Westco Lagan Ltd v A-G and the Clerk of the House of Representatives [2001] 1 NZLR 40, in which it was held that the submission of a bill for the Royal Assent was not a proceeding in Parliament and that article IX of the Bill of Rights did not prevent judicial intervention at that stage; and the report of the Privileges Committee of the New Zealand House of Representatives on the question of privilege relating to that case (March 2001), which expressed the contrary view. For article IX of the Bill of Rights, see Chapter 13.
  3. Bills awaiting Royal Assent remain in the custody of the Clerk of the Parliaments, with the exception that, when the Royal Assent is to be pronounced by commission (see para 30.38 ), bills for granting aids and supplies to the Crown are kept in the custody of the Clerk of the House of Commons and brought up by him or her at the reading of the commission.
  4. The forms of Letters Patent to be used for signifying the Royal Assent are prescribed by rules made by Order in Council pursuant to the Crown Office Act 1887. These Letters Patent now have the wafer Great Seal embossed instead of the pendent wax seal.
  5. On 27 June 1991, consideration by the Commons of Lords amendments to the Highland Regional Councils (Harbours) Order Confirmation Bill was not moved, as the Bill had not been included in the Letters Patent submitted to the Sovereign in preparation for declaration of Royal Assent to bills later that day.
  6. When the Royal Assent is given by commission at times other than prorogation, three Lords Commissioners are appointed for this purpose. For Royal Assent declared in person and refusal of Royal Assent, see Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), p 644, fn 143.