Revealed: Queen lobbied for change in law to hide her private wealth
Elizabeth’s private lawyer put pressure on Edward Heath’s ministers to alter a law that would have revealed her shareholdings to the public, government memos show.
Monarch dispatched private solicitor to secure exemption from transparency law
by David Pegg and Rob Evans
Sun 7 Feb 2021 15.00 GMT
The Queen successfully lobbied the government to change a draft law in order to conceal her “embarrassing” private wealth from the public, according to documents discovered by the Guardian.
A series of government memos unearthed in the National Archives reveal that Elizabeth Windsor’s private lawyer put pressure on ministers to alter proposed legislation to prevent her shareholdings from being disclosed to the public.
Following the Queen’s intervention, the government inserted a clause into the law granting itself the power to exempt companies used by “heads of state” from new transparency measures.
The arrangement, which was concocted in the 1970s, was used in effect to create a state-backed shell corporation which is understood to have placed a veil of secrecy over the Queen’s private shareholdings and investments until at least 2011.
The true scale of her wealth has never been disclosed, though it has been estimated to run into the hundreds of millions of pounds.
Queen Elizabeth II
FacebookTwitterPinterest The scale of Queen Elizabeth’s wealth has never been disclosed but she feared a 1973 bill would allow the public to scrutinise her finances. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP
Evidence of the monarch’s lobbying of ministers was uncovered by a Guardian investigation into the royal family’s use of an arcane parliamentary procedure, known as Queen’s consent, to secretly influence the formation of British laws.
Unlike the better-known procedure of royal assent, a formality that marks the moment when a bill becomes law, Queen’s consent must be sought before legislation can be approved by parliament.
It requires ministers to alert the Queen when legislation might affect either the royal prerogative or the private interests of the crown.
The website of the royal family describes it as “a long established convention” and constitutional scholars have tended to regard consent as an opaque but harmless example of the pageantry that surrounds the monarchy.
But documents unearthed in the National Archives, which the Guardian is publishing this week, suggest that the consent process, which gives the Queen and her lawyers advance sight of bills coming into parliament, has enabled her to secretly lobby for legislative changes.
Thomas Adams, a specialist in constitutional law at Oxford University who reviewed the new documents, said they revealed “the kind of influence over legislation that lobbyists would only dream of”. The mere existence of the consent procedure, he said, appeared to have given the monarch “substantial influence” over draft laws that could affect her.
‘Disclosure would be embarrassing’
The papers reveal that in November 1973 the Queen feared that a proposed bill to bring transparency to company shareholdings could enable the public to scrutinise her finances. As a result she dispatched her private lawyer to press the government to make changes.
Matthew Farrer, then a partner at the prestigious law firm Farrer & Co, visited civil servants at the then Department of Trade and Industry to discuss the proposed transparency measures in the companies bill, which had been drafted by Edward Heath’s government.
The bill sought to prevent investors from secretly building up significant stakes in listed companies by acquiring their shares through front companies or nominees. It would therefore include a clause granting directors the right to demand that any nominees owning their company’s shares reveal, when asked, the identities of their clients.
Three crucial pages of correspondence between civil servants at the trade department reveal how, at that meeting, Farrer relayed the Queen’s objection that the law would reveal her private investments in listed companies, as well as their value. He proposed that the monarch be exempted.
“I have spoken to Mr Farrer,” a civil servant called CM Drukker wrote on 9 November. “As I had recalled he – or rather, I think, his clients – are quite as concerned over the risk of disclosure to directors of a company as to shareholders and the general public.
“He justifies this not only because of the risk of inadvertent or indiscreet leaking to other people,” Drukker continued, “but more basically because disclosure to any person would be embarrassing.”
After being informed that exempting only the crown from the legislation would mean it was obvious any shareholdings so anonymised were the Queen’s property, Farrer, the correspondence states, “took fright somewhat, emphasised that the problem was taken very seriously and suggested – somewhat tentatively – that we had put them into this quandary and must therefore find a way out.”
Drukker continued: “He did not like any suggestions that holdings were not these days so embarrassing, given the wide knowledge of, for example, landed property held. Nor did he see that the problem might be resolved by any avoidance of holdings in particular companies. It was the knowledge per se that was objectionable.”
“Mr Farrer was not only concerned that information about shares held for the Queen, and transactions in them, could become public knowledge (since it would appear on the company’s register) and thus the subject of possible controversy,” Roberts wrote.
“He regards any disclosure of beneficial ownership of shares by the crown, even if restricted to the directors of the company, as potentially embarrassing, because of the risk of leaks.”
He continued: “Mr Farrer has accepted an invitation to go into the matter with us, but has said that he will not be able to do so for a few days, until he has taken instructions from his principals.”
By the following month the Heath government had developed an ingenious proposal through which the Queen’s dilemma might be resolved.
“With the help of the Bank of England, my department have evolved the following solutions, which will appear in the bill,” wrote the Conservative trade secretary, Geoffrey Howe, to a fellow minister.
Howe proposed that the government would insert a new clause into the bill granting the government the power to exempt certain companies from the requirement to declare the identities of their shareholders.
Officially, the change would be for the benefit of a variety of wealthy investors. “Such a class could be generally defined to cover, say, heads of state, governments, central monetary authorities, investment boards and international bodies formed by governments,” Howe continued.
In practice, however, the Queen was plainly the intended beneficiary of the arrangement. The government intended to create a shell company through which a range of these investors could hold shares. It meant that any curious member of the public would be unable to pinpoint which of the shares owned by the company were held on behalf of the monarch.
“My department have discussed this solution with the legal advisers to the Queen,” Howe noted. “While they cannot of course commit themselves to using the suggested new facility, they accept that it is a perfectly reasonable solution to the problem which they face, and that they could not ask us to do more. I am therefore arranging that the necessary provisions should appear in the bill.”
It would be three years before the bill and its secrecy clause would come into law. In February 1974 Heath called a general election, resulting in all legislation that was going through parliament being thrown out.
However, the proposal was resuscitated by the subsequent Labour government under Harold Wilson and became law in 1976, with much of the original bill simply copied into the second edition.
The exemption was almost immediately granted to a newly formed company called Bank of England Nominees Limited, operated by senior individuals at the Bank of England, which has previously been identified as a possible vehicle through which the Queen held shares.
Shares believed to be owned by the Queen were transferred to the company in April 1977, according to a 1989 book by the journalist Andrew Morton.
The exemption is believed to have helped conceal the Queen’s private fortune until at least 2011, when the government disclosed that Bank of England Nominees was no longer covered by it.
Four years ago, the company was closed down. Precisely what happened to the shares it held on behalf of others is not clear. As a dormant company, it never filed public accounts itemising its activities.
‘A possible landmine’
The use of Queen’s consent is normally recorded in Hansard, the official record of parliamentary debates, before a bill’s third reading. However, no notification of consent for the 1976 bill appears in the record, possibly because it was only sought for the 1973 version that never made it to third reading.
Howe, who died in 2015, appears to have disclosed the role of Queen’s consent – which is invoked when ministers believe a draft law might affect the royal prerogative or the private interests of the crown – during a parliamentary debate in 1975 in a previously unnoticed speech.
“In relation to that draft legislation, as to any other, the advisers of the Queen, as they do as a matter of routine, examined the bill to see whether it contained, inadvertently or otherwise, any curtailment of the royal prerogative,” Howe said.
Howe had been prompted to speak in the parliamentary debate during a row caused by the leak of high-level Whitehall papers to the Morning Star newspaper. The leak revealed the government’s intention to exempt the Windsor wealth from the companies bill.
It was a major scoop for the communist newspaper, but the leaked papers did not establish whether the Queen had lobbied the government to help conceal her wealth.
At the time, the Financial Times remarked that “a possible landmine for the Conservatives would be if Buckingham Palace in 1973 had taken the initiative in suggesting that disclosure of the Queen’s shareholdings should be excluded from the bill”.
The newly discovered papers reveal exactly that. “At the very least, it seems clear that representations on the part of the crown were material in altering the shape of the legislation,” Adams said.
When contacted by the Guardian, Buckingham Palace did not answer any questions about the Queen’s lobbying to alter the companies bill, or whether she had used the consent procedure to put pressure on the government.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Queen 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.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Published19 hours ago
By Jonny Dymond
The Queen was shown legislation which may have forced her to reveal her private finances in the 1970s "by convention", Buckingham Palace says.
Papers published by the Guardian suggest the monarch's personal lawyers successfully lobbied to change a draft law to conceal her wealth.
The documents were unearthed as part of an investigation into Queen's consent.
It is a process where Parliament asks for consent when debating bills which affect the Crown's interests.
More than 1,000 draft laws have been seen by the Queen or the Prince of Wales before being approved by MPs as part of the procedure, the Guardian said.
Queen's consent is always granted where requested, the palace said.
The long-established convention sees the monarch asked to provide consent by Parliament when it is considering legislation "which would affect the prerogative or interests of the Crown", according to the Royal Family's website.
This process is separate to Royal Assent, where the monarch formally approves to a bill passed by Parliament for it to become law.
Royal Assent has not been refused since 1708.
The government memos, found in the National Archives, date back to 1973.
They show that the Queen, concerned that new legislation might force her to reveal her private holdings in companies, despatched lawyers to argue her case with the then Department of Trade and Industry.
A revision to the draft law subsequently enabled her as a head of state to sidestep the new regulations.
The Guardian suggests that early sight of the draft legislation, under the powers of Queen's consent, gave the monarch an unrivalled opportunity to influence the legislation to her advantage.
This is a good get by the Guardian - shining a light into the always-sensitive interactions between palace and government as regards money.
The palace line on this is pretty simple - the mechanism of Queen's consent is a matter for government and discussions between the sovereign through her lawyers and government departments are a fact of life.
Getting first sight of legislation that may affect you is a pretty significant advantage for any monarch. Not because anyone thinks about a block or veto or a threat of it. But because then you get a chance to get your lawyers round early.
Why is the palace denying a threat of a block, something that no one has alleged? Because, says a source, the allegations put to it by the Guardian were broader than those that turned up in the story published yesterday.
It's not entirely surprising that given the consultation in these areas, the Queen would have something to say.
The Queen is not a normal citizen. The tone of the correspondence published by the Guardian is a little surprising - it suggests a degree of involvement that belies the palace's claim that the mechanism is simply a formality.
The Guardian has compiled a list of 1,062 parliamentary bills that it says have been subject to Queen's consent since Elizabeth II's reign began in 1952 - which works out at about 14 uses of the procedure per year.
It features a wide range of legislation including laws which affected her private estates in Balmoral and Sandringham.
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."
Now we know that the mysterious ‘Queen’s consent’ is more than just a procedural formality, it must be scrapped
Mon 8 Feb 2021 15.26 GMT
The Guardian’s investigation revealing new detail on the impact of “Queen’s consent” in our legal system marks a significant advance in our understanding of an archaic and mysterious part of the UK constitution. It should prompt grave concerns about the practice’s continued existence.
Queen’s consent is a procedural rule, internal to the workings of parliament and of unclear origins, which requires the monarch’s consent to be obtained for certain types of legislation – before they can be presented for final approval by either house of parliament. It must not be confused with the equally archaic process of royal assent which, in contrast, is well understood, applies to legislation already approved by both houses of parliament, and which is widely accepted as being purely symbolic in almost all realistic circumstances.
The anti-democratic potential of the consent process is obvious: it gives the Queen a possible veto, to be exercised in secret, over proposed laws. But there has been no way to know whether it was realising that potential or not, and so no way to know how damaging the process might be, because its workings have previously remained hidden from public view.
In particular, two key aspects have generally been unavailable in the public domain: the range of legislation that is subject to the process as it goes through parliament; and the significance of the process, whether it is a merely symbolic or procedural step, or involves genuine reflection and negotiation on the content of proposed laws. This week’s investigation uncovers significant examples of both.
Until now, the main indication of the range of legislation subject to the process was a pamphlet intended to guide the parliamentary lawyers who select which proposals require consent, and which don’t. The Queen’s consent is needed, according to that pamphlet, for any legislation that would affect “the prerogative … the hereditary revenues, the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall, and personal or property interests of the crown”. Yet although it gives examples, the pamphlet does not reveal in detail what kinds of legislation meet those criteria, and how seriously they must impact those interests before the consent process is invoked.
We now know there has been a persistent practice of applying those criteria so broadly that significant amounts of legislation regulating otherwise quite ordinary activities have required consent. The Queen pays tax, so (for example) finance laws require consent. The Queen is an employer, so (for example) child support and pensions laws require consent. And so on. Quite superficial connections to the interests of the crown are sufficient to trigger the Queen’s involvement.
Even less information has been available on the substance of the process once triggered. All correspondence containing requests for consent, replies and the documentation of any related discussions have always been shrouded in absolute privacy. The only clue to their existence is the routine formulaic confirmation in parliament whenever consent has been given, which reveals nothing about the process through which that consent was secured. So it has been impossible to ascertain whether this is an essentially symbolic process, comparable with royal assent and perhaps justifiable as symbolically acknowledging the Queen as a formal part of the legislature; or whether it provided (or had the potential to be used as) a genuine opportunity for the Queen to veto legislation or influence policy.
But it is now clear this process is far from merely symbolic. The documents uncovered by the Guardian provide remarkable evidence that this process accords the Queen’s advisers a genuine opportunity to negotiate with the government over changes in proposed laws, that they do sometimes secure such changes before giving consent, and that they are even prepared to threaten to withhold consent to secure their policy preferences.
This degree of involvement in the legislative process is unjustifiable. It is a serious constitutional mistake that has survived only through being obscured. In the famous formulation, the Queen in our constitutional monarchy has the rights “to be consulted, to advise and to warn”. It is now clear that the process of Queen’s consent goes beyond the boundaries of legitimate involvement set by those rights.
In 2014, a parliamentary committee contemplated the abolition of the process but, expressly relying on the fact they saw “no evidence to suggest that legislation is ever altered”, the members concluded it was a purely “formal … process”. Convinced by its countervailing symbolic value, they stopped short of recommending abolition. The revelations this week should prompt members of parliament to revisit that 2014 decision. There is no place for this process in the working of a 21st-century democracy.
Adam Tucker is a senior lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Liverpool
Buckingham Palace denies Queen blocked legislation to conceal private wealth
'Any assertion that the Sovereign blocked legislation is simply incorrect,' says spokesperson
1 day ago
Buckingham Palace has described as “simply incorrect” any suggestion the Queen blocked a piece of legislation in the 1970s to conceal her private wealth.
The Guardian reported that the monarch's private lawyer had successfully lobbied the government to change a draft law enabling companies used by “heads of state” to be exempt from new transparency measures being considered at the time.
Material held in the National Archives showed that in November 1973, the head of state feared a Bill aimed at opening up company shareholdings may allow the public to scrutinise her finances, the paper reported.
As a result, the monarch’s lawyer spoke with civil servants at the then Department of Trade and Industry about the Companies Bill and proposed the Queen be exempted, The Guardian alleged.
According to the newspaper, a civil servant warned at the time of the risk of “embarrassing” disclosures if amendments were not made to the legislation, which became law in 1976 and applied until at least 2011.
The Guardian reported that the Queen's private wealth has never officially been revealed although it is believed to amount to hundreds of millions of pounds.
Thomas Adams, an associate professor of law at Oxford University, told the paper the documents showed “the kind of influence over legislation that lobbyists would only dream of”.
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Buckingham Palace denied the monarch had sought to block the Bill.
The palace said in a statement: “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.”
How Queen’s consent raises questions over UK democracy
The monarch is not supposed to meddle in parliament. But that key principle is now in doubt
by David Pegg and Rob Evans
Sun 7 Feb 2021 15.00 GMT
The Queen does not meddle in the affairs of parliament. That is a cornerstone of Britain’s system of constitutional monarchy. Or at least it is supposed to be.
The Guardian’s investigation into the secretive power of Queen’s consent, whereby the monarch is provided with advance sight of draft laws and invited to approve them, casts this fundamental assumption into doubt.
The investigation uncovered evidence suggesting that she used the arcane procedure to lobby the government to change a draft law in order to conceal her private wealth from the public for decades.
The exact origins of Queen’s consent are unclear. There is evidence it was first invoked in 1728 in relation to maritime law, when King George II gave parliament permission to debate the suppression of piracy bill.
“We don’t know very much. It’s not a modern development,” said Dr Adam Tucker, a senior lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Liverpool who was one of three experts to give evidence to a parliamentary committee examining the mechanism of consent in 2014.
In its present incarnation, the procedure is supposed to apply to two categories of laws. The first are those that affect the fundamental powers of state known as the royal prerogative, such as the ability to declare war or conduct foreign affairs. While formally such powers are vested in the person of the monarch, in practice they are exercised by the government.
The second category of laws in which consent is invoked is those affecting the revenues, assets or interests of the crown, principally referring to the historical landholdings known as the crown estate, the Queen’s estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, and Prince Charles’s estate, the Duchy of Cornwall.
Current guidance from government lawyers states that this also encompasses properties owned by the Windsor family privately, such as Sandringham or Balmoral, as well as the Queen’s private investments.
If government lawyers advise that consent is required, the minister handling the bill writes to the Queen’s private secretary, explaining how the law will affect her and formally requesting her approval. On occasions, ministers have stated that it was their “humble duty” to request her consent to bills, according to Whitehall documents.
Copies of the draft law are enclosed with the request, which is also sent to the Queen’s private solicitors, Farrer & Co, who examine the draft bill and advise her. At least two weeks are given for the royals and their lawyers to scrutinise the draft law.
Buckingham Palace insists that the monarch’s role is “purely formal”. Declassified files show that from time to time the palace has complained that the Queen has not been given enough time to respond, or that the government has treated the procedure too casually.
In 1983, Robin Butler, then an aide to the prime minister, warned that the procedure was “not a formality since clauses in such bills frequently have to be referred by the palace to the Queen’s solicitor for legal advice”.
A similar provision for the Prince of Wales also exists for legislation that might affect his private estate, the Duchy of Cornwall.
If consent is withheld, parliament is in effect blocked from completing its scrutiny of the law. “If Queen’s or prince’s consent is not signified (in a case where it is required), the question on third reading of the bill … cannot be put,” parliamentary guidance states.
Why should a sovereign have even a theoretical ability to strangle legislation early in its life?
Rodney Brazier, constitutional law professor
Some constitutionalists have previously harboured suspicions about maintaining an anachronism like Queen’s consent in the 21st century.
Tucker said: “It involves people reflecting upon the substance and the content of the legislation. It involves a delay of two weeks, while the Queen’s lawyers are given time to advise the Queen on the content of the legislation.”
He contrasted the mechanism with that of royal assent, whereby the Queen formally approves laws at the end of the legislative process, rather than during it. “There is a real contrast between how serious, how substantive the two processes are.”
Tucker and two other constitutional scholars told the 2014 parliamentary committee that the process had little or no democratic justification.
Robert Blackburn, a professor of constitutional law at King’s College London, warned of “an inherent danger that a misguided future monarch or prince of Wales, holding strong moral views on the subject matter of a bill covered by the royal consent procedure, might believe he or she is entitled to impose his opinion on the matter”.
Buckingham Palace insists the Queen’s role in approving laws is ‘purely formal’.
Rodney Brazier, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Manchester, wrote that the monarch had a unique right among Britons to approve proposed laws. “Why should a sovereign and a duke of Cornwall have that advantage, and why should a sovereign have even a theoretical ability to strangle legislation early in its life?” he said.
Neither the government nor Buckingham Palace routinely release information disclosing what opinions the monarch offered when asked to approve draft bills.
Previous attempts to understand even the basic functioning of the opaque procedure have been aggressively resisted. An academic who in 2011 requested the government’s guidelines on how consent is applied spent two years fighting a legal case before it was released.
Six years ago the parliamentary committee recommended several changes to improve transparency, but little was done.
Buckingham Palace said Queen’s consent had only ever been refused on the advice of ministers. “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,” a palace spokesperson said.
Prince Charles vetted laws that stop his tenants buying their homes
Royals used secretive procedure to approve laws that gave special exemptions to Duchy of Cornwall
Rob Evans, David Pegg and Michael Barton
Tue 9 Feb 2021 15.00 GMTLast modified on Tue 9 Feb 2021 16.04 GMT
Royals used secretive procedure to approve laws which gave special exemptions to Duchy of Cornwall
The royal family has used a secretive procedure to vet three parliamentary acts that have prevented residents on Prince Charles’ estate from buying their own homes for decades, the Guardian can reveal.
His £1bn Duchy of Cornwall estate was later given special exemptions in the acts that denied residents the legal right to buy their own homes outright.
Under the opaque procedure, the Queen and Prince of Wales were allowed to vet the contents of the bills by government ministers and approve them before they were passed by parliament.
The exemptions have left residents living in homes that have diminishing or no financial value. The residents say they cannot borrow against their homes to pay, for example, for social care fees for themselves and loved ones.
Jane Giddins, who lives in one of the prince’s houses in a Somerset village, said a “feudal and anachronistic” system had unfairly favoured Charles, to her family’s detriment. “When we die, our kids will be left with a property that is very difficult to sell,” she said.
The exemptions enable the prince to preserve the financial value of his estate and brings in income as the tenants have to pay rent to him each year. The residents say they have been unable to find out why and how the heir to the throne was able to secure preferential treatment from the government.
The prince declined to comment when asked whether he or his family had lobbied the government for the exemptions in the three acts.
However, the Guardian has established that Prince Charles and his mother were allowed to approve the contents of the three acts under an arcane parliamentary process known as Queen’s consent.
Through this mechanism, the monarch has vetted more than 1,000 parliamentary bills during her reign to check whether any of them affect the crown or her private interests. (…)
Royals vetted more than 1,000 laws via Queen’s consent
Exclusive: secretive procedure used to review laws ranging from Brexit trade deal to inheritance and land policy
David Pegg, Rob Evans and Michael Barton
Mon 8 Feb 2021 15.00 GMTLast modified on Mon 8 Feb 2021 17.53 GMT
More than 1,000 laws have been vetted by the Queen or Prince Charles through a secretive procedure before they were approved by the UK’s elected members of parliament, the Guardian has established.
The huge number of laws subject to royal vetting cover matters ranging from justice, social security, pensions, race relations and food policy through to obscure rules on car parking charges and hovercraft.
They included draft laws that affected the Queen’s personal property such as her private estates in Balmoral and Sandringham, and potentially anything deemed to affect her personally.
The Guardian has compiled a database of at least 1,062 parliamentary bills that have been subjected to Queen’s consent, stretching from the beginning of Elizabeth II’s reign through to the present day.
The database illustrates that the opaque procedure of Queen’s consent has been exercised far more extensively than was previously believed.
Under the procedure, government ministers privately notify the Queen of clauses in draft parliamentary bills and ask for her consent to debate them.
As part of a series investigating the use of the consent procedure, the Guardian has published documents from the National Archives that reveal the Queen has on occasions used the procedure to privately lobby the government.
The investigation uncovered evidence suggesting that she used the procedure to persuade government ministers to change a 1970s transparency law in order to conceal her private wealth from the public.
The documents also show that on other occasions the monarch’s advisers demanded exclusions from proposed laws relating to road safety and land policy that appeared to affect her estates, and pressed for government policy on historic sites to be altered.
The database of 1,062 laws relates to legislation that the Queen vetted under consent rules, and it is not known on which occasions she also lobbied for changes to draft legislation. The Guardian has uncovered evidence of lobbying for changes to at least four draft laws, but it is possible she interfered with many more.
When asked by the Guardian, the Queen’s representatives refused to say how many times she had requested alterations to legislation since she came to the throne in 1952.
The royals describe the consent process as “a long-established convention that the Queen is asked by parliament to provide consent … for the debating of bills which would affect the prerogative or interests of the crown”.
The database compiled by the Guardian reveals the vast swathe of draft UK law that ministers have decided to send to the palace for consideration.
Some of the bills the Queen reviewed before they were passed by parliament relate to wealth or taxation. One of the richest families in Britain, with the monarch’s property investments exempt from inheritance tax and collections of fine art and jewellery built up over centuries, the Windsors are notoriously guarded about their finances.
Members of the Windsor family can have their will sealed from the public, unlike any other family in Britain, ensuring an unmatched level of secrecy around their private wealth. No confirmed figure of the Windsor family’s wealth exists, though estimates have placed it at hundreds of millions of pounds.
In 2014, for example, the Queen and the heir to the throne screened the inheritance and trustees’ powers bill. Two years earlier she vetted the trusts (capital and income) bill. Trusts are legal arrangements often used by wealthy families to protect their assets from both tax and public scrutiny.
She has also screened bills covering whole swathes of government policymaking. At least 11 bills governing the railways have been vetted by the Queen, sometimes relating to the land owned by the royal estates.
In 2013 the Queen gave her consent to the parliamentary bill to build the High Speed 2 rail line between London and Birmingham. Transport ministers had notified the palace that the bill affected the “interests of the crown” as the department needed to acquire 21 plots of land owned by the crown estate during the construction of the line.
Some of the bills subjected to Queen’s consent are remarkably obscure and ostensibly have little relevance to the monarchy, raising questions about why the Windsors were asked to vet the bills. They include a 1963 bill relating to the British Museum, a 1986 bill on salmon, and the 2019 parking (code of practice) bill to regulate the behaviour of private car-clamping firms.
Dr Adam Tucker, a specialist in constitutional law at Liverpool University, said the breadth of laws made to undergo the Queen’s consent procedure was startling.
“A lot of these bills are not distinctively about the crown, or mainly about the crown, or obviously about the crown in any way,” he said. “And yet they obviously still have some content which drags them into the process.
“Seeing the sheer range, in this relentless list form, really drives home the sheer breadth of things that the procedure captures.”
In other instances, a connection to the crown’s financial interests is plain, such as a 1988 bill affecting the duchy of Lancaster, the private estate that gives the Queen a multimillion-pound income.
Buckingham Palace confirmed that the mechanism encompassed draft laws that affect the Queen’s private interests, such as her private estates, as well as anything that affects the Queen personally, whether as an individual or as a land owner or employer.
A spokesperson for the Queen said: “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.”
She added: “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.”
The Cabinet Office said: “Queen’s consent is a longstanding convention and a requirement of the parliamentary process. Consent is routinely sought by the government and agreed by the monarch as a matter of course.”
A little-questioned rule
Many of the laws appear to relate to matters of the royal prerogative, the powers of state that are formally vested in the monarch but are exercised by the government.
The fact that the consent procedure takes place is briefly noted in the parliamentary record. In the Commons, a minister nods when asked by the Speaker, while in the Lords a minister will read a rote passage of text.
Politicians infrequently question the procedure. One of the rare occasions was in 2015 when the Labour peer Lord Berkeley asked why the Queen’s consent was required for the enterprise bill after the rote passage had been read out.
Lord Taylor, the then government chief whip in the Lords, replied that it was “a courtesy which Her Majesty extends to the house before we consider the third reading of a bill. It is not normal to discuss in detail what the interests are.”