New claims have been made about the Queen lobbying the British government nearly 50 years ago in order to keep her financial interests and investments secret.
The allegations have been made by the Guardian newspaper, which says it has accessed records from the 1970s that show the Queen’s personal lawyer attempted to influence government legislation on company investments.
The newspaper claims it was done in order to conceal the Queen’s private wealth from the public and the allegations are significant because the Monarch holds a strictly impartial role as Head of State which forbids him or her from interfering in the political process.
Whilst Royal Assent is routinely given by Queen – a formality that marks the moment when a bill approved by the Houses of Parliament becomes law – there is another lesser known procedure called ‘Queen’s consent’.
According to documents on the UK Parliament website, Queen’s consent must be sought by a minister of state when legislation affects “the interests of the Queen or Prince of Wales”.
The kind of legislation that requires the Monarch to be notified is described as “Bills affecting the prerogative… or hereditary revenues, personal property or interests of the Crown”.
The Guardian claims that documents in the National Archives from 1973 show the archaic Queen’s consent procedure allowed a senior member of the Household to “secretly lobby for legislative changes”.
One academic, Thomas Adams from Oxford University, told the Guardian that the documents appeared to have given the Monarch “substantial influence” over draft laws that could affect her.
The example cited is the 1973 Companies Bill, which proposed greater transparency of company shareholdings.
The newspaper claims the documents from the National Archive show the then Trade Secretary Geoffrey Howe, after lobbying from Buckingham Palace, proposed to insert a clause into the bill to exempt “heads of state” or governments from the new laws.
The Companies Bill was not, in the end, passed by Edward Heath’s Conservative government as they lost the 1974 General Election but it was eventually passed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1976.
Buckingham Palace said of the claims: “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.”
The anti-Monarchy campaign group, Republic, reacted to the claims calling them a “clear abuse of power for personal gain”.
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The CEO, Graham Smith, said: “We've always suspected that there is a lot of lobbying going on behind closed doors, by the Queen and other royals, to protect their own private interests."
On the Royal Family website, it clarifies the difference between Royal Assent and Queen’s consent: “It is also a long established convention that The Queen is asked by Parliament to provide consent (which is different to assent) for the debating of bills which would affect the prerogative or interests of the Crown.
It adds: “Where Queen’s Consent is given it is signified in each House of Parliament and recorded in Hansard. Consent has not been withheld in modern times, except on the advice of Government.”