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How long can the UK government delay presenting an otherwise passed bill to the Queen for royal assent (could they perhaps delay it indefinitely to prevent it becoming law?).

Parliamentary pages I've read say 5-10 days is normal & iirc more than 15 highly unusual, but, I've not found anything definitive on how long the government can take to present it or even if they have to present a bill for royal assent at all if they wanted to frustrate it's passing into law.

Institute for government : Maddy Thimont Jack

A new prime minister intent on no deal Brexit can't be stopped by MPs

UK CONSTITUTIONAL LAW ASSOCIATION : Robert Craig

Could the Government Advise the Queen to Refuse Royal Assent to a Backbench Bill?

GOWLING WLG : KIERAN LAIRD

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Public Law for Everyone : Professor Mark Elliott

Can the Government veto legislation by advising the Queen to withhold royal assent?

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On the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on 02/09/2019, David Gauke claimed that by constitutional convention Parliament could not be prorogued while legislation was waiting for royal assent.

So in the specific instance I imagine you are probably referring to, with the Boris government delaying legislation to prevent a no-deal brexit, the answer appears to be "until they want to start prorogation."

This is yet another example where there is no written rule, it's simply the UK's unwritten constitution which consists of a set of conventions, so the general answer depends on the government's will to cause a constitutional crisis/outrage and the possible use of court action to force its hand.

  • Certainly I was ''thinking' of the Boris government when the question occurred to me, parliamentary pages I've read suggest a period of 5-10 days is normal & iirc 15 considered the normal maximum but I've not found anything definitive on when the government HAS to present it or any remedy parliament might be able to employ if the government simply didn't present a bill to the Queen for assent. – Pelinore Sep 2 at 19:01
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In the absence of a codified constitution, one of the primary records of conventions and normal practices is Erskine May’s treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament

Paragraph 30.36 states the view that once a bill has completed all of its stages through Parliament, Royal Assent, must be granted - though it does not specify when:

When bills, either public or private, or Church of England Measures [...], 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’, and assent must be forthcoming.

It is common, when multiple bills all complete their parliamentary stages close together in time, to receive Royal Assent in one go, and a short delay to facilitate that is uncontroversial.

Aside from that, though, there is an implication that there should not be any undue delay, as in the case where a bill completes its parliamentary stages earlier than expected:

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.

This also appears to address the separate but related question as to whether the government can either advise the Queen not to give her assent to a bill, or decline to present it for assent at all, the answer being 'no' in both cases.

It should be noted that Erskine May is not law; but convention carries significant weight in the British system, and breaching it is not without political consequences.

  • "This also appears to address the separate but related question as to whether the government can either advise the Queen not to give her assent to a bill, or decline to present it for assent at all, the answer being 'no' in both cases! That wasn't my question but it appears unequivocal if not uncontroversial that the government can advise against consent & that the convention would then be that the Queen would follow the advice. – Pelinore Sep 2 at 18:24
  • Parliamentary pages I've read suggest a period of 5-10 days is normal & iirc 15 considered the normal maximum but I've not found anything definitive on when the government HAS to present it or any remedy parliament might be able to employ if the government simply didn't present a bill to the Queen for assent. – Pelinore Sep 2 at 19:34
  • I'm sorry, there's a lot of very interesting ancillary stuff (practically all of which I'd already dug up with my own Googling) but nothing that answers the question, I already know it needs assent, I know the Queen always gives it (unless advised not to by the PM), all I want to know is 'how long can the PM wait b4 asking for assent, what she does after he has is nothing to do with my question. – Pelinore Sep 5 at 4:13
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    @Pelinore What this answer is trying to say is that the law does not specify the maximum time allowed before asking for assent, and so the PM could in theory decline altogether to send a bill for assent. In the absence of law, however, we have to fall back on convention, which states that any delay must be kept to a minimum. – Steve Melnikoff Sep 5 at 6:24
  • Thanks for the clarification Steve. – Pelinore Sep 5 at 16:07

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