Why we’re talking about . . .

Queen ‘used royal consent rule’ to lobby for law change to hide her wealth

Monarch’s private lawyers dispatched to put pressure on civil servants involved in drafting new legislation

The Queen successfully lobbied ministers to change a proposed law in the 1970s in order to hide her “embarrassing” private wealth from public scrutiny, newly unearthed documents reveal.

Official memos dredged up from the National Archives by The Guardian reveal that the monarch’s private lawyer put pressure on civil servants to prevent her shareholdings from being made public under proposed transparency measures in a companies bill drafted by Edward Heath’s Conservative government.

Matthew Farrer, then a partner at London-based law firm Farrer & Co., “relayed the Queen’s objection that the law would reveal her private investments in listed companies, as well as their value”, the paper reports.

A civil servant called C.M. Drukker wrote on 9 November that Farrer had argued that the disclosure would be “embarrassing” to the Queen.

The lawyer had “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”, according to Drukker.

The government subsequently inserted a clause into the legislation granting itself the power to excuse companies used by “heads of state” from the new transparency measures.

What is Queen’s Consent?

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson last night insisted that claims the Queen blocked legislation are “simply incorrect”, the BBC reports.

In response, The Guardian’s investigations editor Paul Lewis tweeted that the paper did not allege that the monarch had “blocked legislation” but rather that “she lobbied ministers to change a law to conceal her wealth”. 

The memos at the centre of the row came to light during an investigation into the Royals’ use of an arcane parliamentary procedure called Queen’s Consent.

The Royal Family’s website describes Queen’s Consent as a “long-established convention” by which the Queen is “asked by Parliament to provide consent… for the debating of bills which would affect the prerogative or interests of the Crown”.

Constitutional scholars have “tended to regard consent as an opaque but harmless example of the pageantry that surrounds the monarchy”, says The Guardian. But the memos suggest that the Queen’s advance sight of bills “has enabled her to secretly lobby for legislative changes”, the paper adds.

As calls emerge for a rethink of the archaic rule, Buckingham Palace insisted that “the role of sovereign is purely formal” and that “consent is always granted by the monarch where requested by government”.

A spokesperson added: “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.”

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