Buckingham Palace says that newspaper reports claiming The Queen lobbied the government in the 1970s are “simply untrue”.
According to documents published in the Guardian, The Queen’s personal lawyers successfully persuaded ministers to change a draft law in order to conceal her private wealth.
The documents show that starting in 1973, Her Majesty had meetings with her solicitor and senior civil servants in order to try and prevent the government passing a law which would make the monarch’s shareholdings more transparent.
The alleged lobbying came as a result of a process called ‘The Queen’s Consent’.
Not to be confused with Royal Assent, Queen’s Consent is a power where the monarch can be notified about upcoming legislative debates affecting their private interests.
The Queen’s Consent is required before Parliament is able to debate a bill affecting royal prerogatives. In contrast, Royal Assent is the last stage of the legislative process where Her Majesty rubber-stamps any laws passed.
The Queen’s Consent is very occasionally denied, but only on the advice of ministers. Royal Assent can never be denied.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “Queen’s consent is a parliamentary process, with the role of sovereign purely formal. Consent is always granted by the monarch where requested by government. Any assertion that the sovereign has blocked legislation is simply incorrect.
“Whether Queen’s consent is required is decided by parliament, independently from the royal household, in matters that would affect Crown interests, including personal property and personal interests of the monarch.
“If consent is required, draft legislation is, by convention, put to the sovereign to grant solely on advice of ministers and as a matter of public record.”
Queen’s Consent explained
In terms of legislation, the Queen’s nominal approval (known as Queen’s Consent) is needed before Bills may be considered by Parliament the provisions of which affect:
- her prerogative (that is, her common law powers, rights, immunities and privileges),
- the hereditary revenues of the Crown (that is, the Crown Estate, bona vacantia, treasure, etc),
- the Duchies of Lancaster or Cornwall,
- or her personal property (such as Sandringham and Balmoral) or interests (that is, those things that affect the Queen herself not otherwise covered by the other elements described already—including offices in the Queen’s Household, the Occupied Royal Palaces, the Crown Jewels, etc).
Queen’s Consent must be signified at or before a Bill’s Third Reading, either as given or refused, and, if refused, the Bill falls. Bills which consolidate or restate the law do not require Queen’s Consent. Most Bills which pass through both Houses of Parliament are initiated by the Government; support for those Bills is more or less guaranteed as a result of the Government’s majority in the Commons. It logically follows that Bills initiated by the Government are not likely to be frustrated by the Government through the mechanism of Queen’s or Prince’s Consent.
Buckingham Palace has confirmed that Queen’s Consent is refused only upon the advice of Ministers; reading between the lines in what this statement does not say, this means that the Queen’s Consent is automatic to Bills, unless advised by Ministers to refuse. Queen’s Consent is given (by a Privy Counsellor in the Commons at the relevant legislative stage) as a matter of course unless refused on ministerial advice. Refusal of Queen’s Consent happens when an MP introduces a Private Member’s Bill which the Government does not support; it is never refused for Government Bills, which underlines the facts that not only does the Queen refuse such consent on ministerial advice but also that it is wielded by the Government against Private Members’ Bills as aforesaid.
Asking the Queen’s permission to pass a new law is therefore not only nominal but also nothing to do with either of them, but entirely in the Government’s control.
Although the Cabinet Office’s guidance phrases the issue of Queen’s Consent in such a way as to sound as if Her Majesty actually have a real say or are even asked, Buckingham Palace has itself acknowledged the true state of affairs: that consent is refused on ministerial advice. The idea of an unelected monarch or her heir having a blanket veto over the legislative process in a modern democracy is a relic of the Middle Ages and there are many who argue that, for all its nominal reality, it should be abolished entirely.