Majestic appeal to halt Health Bill

by - 16th March 2012, 8.29 BST

The Queen is being petitioned by the NHS Consultants’ Association and other organisations, including the National Pensioners’ Convention, the NHS Support Federation, Keep Our NHS Public and Public Health for NHS, to withhold Royal Assent from the Health and Social Care Bill for England if it is passed by Parliament.

Signatories to the letter believe opposition to the bill continues to grow as the conclusion of the parliamentary process nears.

However, constitutional experts say withholding the Royal Assent is extremely rare in the modern era of universal suffrage and constitutional monarchies.

Historians say this ancient right of the Crown has been exercised occasionally over some Commonwealth countries – by the monarch’s representatives, or Governors General – but Royal Assent has not been withheld in the UK since 1708.

A growing list of professional organisations – from the BMA, Royal College of GPs and the Faculty of Public Health, to the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association – have each called for the bill to be withdrawn but the Coalition has continued to press for its central privatisation policies to remain.

Unions say numerous amendments are seen by an increasing number of those who have studied them carefully as largely cosmetic rather than significant.

They believe the constitutional issues for the Queen are:

Before the last election, the Conservative party explicitly promised no top-down reorganisation of the NHS

·      The Bill was not included in the Coalition agreement

·      The Queen’s speech written by the coalition government for the State Opening of Parliament did not herald the core content of the NHS bill.

Dr. Peter Fisher, President of the NHS Consultants’ Association, said: The public never voted for this reorganisation.  

“Normal democratic processes have been flouted, and by withholding her Royal Assent the Queen would reflect the wishes of the majority of her subjects to save the National Health Service from which they have benefitted so much throughout the sixty years of her reign. 

“It would be a wonderful gift to her people in this her Diamond Jubilee year.”

The last time the Queen exercised similar powers was in 1999, when she withheld assent from a backbench bill proposed by Labour MP Tam Dalyell aimed at preventing new air strikes against Iraq without MPs first debating the issue. 

The House of Commons authorities ruled because authority to deploy military forces remains formally a royal prerogative, the 10-Minute Rule bill would significantly limit that power.

However, the procedure of withholding what is termed ‘Queen’s Assent’ was used before the draft legislation was debated in the House of Commons, not at the end of the parliamentary process.

The full text of the letter has not been released because under royal protocols it is regarded as discourteous to the monarch to do so.