Scottish Militia Bill
The Scottish Militia Bill (known formerly as the Scotch Militia Bill) is the usual name given to a bill that was passed by the House of Commons and House of Lords of the Parliament of Great Britain in spring 1708. However, on 11 March 1708 Queen Anne withheld Royal Assent on the advice of her ministers for fear that the proposed militia created would be disloyal.
The Bill's long title was An Act for settling the Militia of that Part of Great Britain called Scotland. Its object was to arm the Scottish militia. This happened as the unification between Scotland and England under the Acts of Union 1707 had been passed.
On the day the Bill was meant to be signed, news came that the French were sailing toward Scotland, and there was suspicion that the Scottish might be disloyal. Therefore, support for a veto was strong.
The Scottish Militia Bill was the last bill to be refused Royal Assent. Before this, King William III had vetoed Bills passed by Parliament six times. However, the last occasion on which a Monarch dismissed a government was in 1834 when King William IV removed the government of Lord Melbourne on the pretext that appointment of Lord John Russell was an excessively radical move. Sir Robert Peel attempted to form a new administration, but his Tory party was in a minority, and new elections continued to give a Whig majority. In the end, William IV conceded. Royal assent to Bills and governments generally came to be viewed as a mere formality once both Houses of Parliament had successfully read a Bill three times, or a general election took place.
In the British colonies, use of the Royal veto had continued past 1707, and was one of the primary complaints of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, that the King "has refused his Assent to Laws, most wholesome and necessary for the public Good" and "He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance". A modern occasion on which a government was dismissed took place in Australia in 1975 when the Queen's representative there, the governor general Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who failed to subsequently win a following election.
Today is a matter of theoretical debate as to whether this veto power remains with the Monarch, as the power has not been exercised for so long. The general view is that any veto would be repugnant to the democratic process, and would have severe political consequences for the Monarchy as an institution.
- Queen Anne's veto is recorded as "La Reine se avisera" in 18 H.L. Jour. 506 (1708).
- A Brief Chronology of the House of Commons at www.parliament.uk (This contains some inaccuracies)