SPOTLIGHT: A law for itself? How “the queen’s consent” protects royal secrets
Is the royal family racist? “We’re really not a racist family,” Prince William responded to Meghan Markle’s suggestions in her infamous interview with Oprah that they really were and it had made her almost suicidal.
Even without taking into account the colorful phraseologies of the late Prince Philip on people in most other countries of the world, one cannot judge one way or another whether or not the monarchy is, because of a 300-year-old arcane. -all that exempts them from race relations legislation and other laws.
This is called the Queen’s Consent and it allows her and Prince Charles to control or veto any parliamentary legislation that might affect them, personally or in their public roles, even obscurely. The Scottish Parliament is also following suit.
Until the 1990s, the Queen had grown up and ruled surrounded by an all-white troop of courtiers, presumably ignorant or not questioning that “immigrants of color or foreigners” were prohibited from filling office roles in the country. the royal house. They could be servants, but not higher.
It was in 1968 that the Queen’s Chief Financial Officer told officials that “in fact it was not customary to appoint immigrants of color or foreigners” to office positions in the royal household.
It is not known when this ended as Buckingham Palace refused to answer questions about the ban and when it was revoked, although its records show people from ethnic minorities were employed in the 1990s. they have no records before. Which is either careless or practical.
In the 1970s, the Labor government enacted three laws prohibiting racial and gender discrimination in the workplace. But the staff of the royal household were exempted and specifically prevented from taking action under them. The exemption was extended to the present day when, in 2010, the Equality Act replaced the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 1970. of remuneration.
Beyond the law
If you are looking to use the Freedom of Information Act to review staff grievances or the homes, land and allowances we pay, then good luck, as this is almost beyond the law. Information on members of the Royal Family is subject to exemptions and restrictions that do not apply to any other part of the public sector – and it is unmistakably part of the public sector?
The Queen’s Consent, which is not a Netflix series and is very different from Royal Assent, requires that any parliamentary bill apparently affecting the interests of the Queen or Prince of Wales needs her consent.
And because royals are also employers, landlords, pay taxes, run pensions, own rivers, lakes, and land, their agreement is needed on a wide range of laws – which means the Queen and Charles have effective veto rights over the pieces they wear. do not like.
Buckingham Palace is keen to maintain that the role of the Queen is purely ceremonial and that “any claim that the Sovereign has blocked legislation is simply incorrect”. Which is technically true but totally misleading. It does not block legislation because it does not need it.
Before third reading of a bill that may affect it, it is sent to the palace and its legal advisers Farrer & Co who have two weeks or more for consideration. It is then modified to meet his wishes. If not, it doesn’t work. It is then revised and returned. The final bill quickly becomes law when it nods with royal assent.
Consent also gives the unelected Queen the power to demand changes to the bill in order to benefit her financially, or to exempt her from laws that she does not like or benefit her. And there are a plethora of cases – over 1,000 revealed by The Guardian – where she or Charles have done just that.
Leaks of papers
IN the 1970s, Queen’s consent was used to persuade, or force, the government to exempt her from having to disclose the extent of her investments. In 2017, the leaked Paradise Papers revealed that many of his millions were in offshore tax havens, including the infamous Cayman Islands.
In 1981, the Windsor House obtained a court ruling that royal wills should be closed to the public – this was then enshrined in the Superior Courts Act. The will of Princess Diana was an exception.
This only perpetuated the secrecy dating back to 1911 when the wills of members of the royal family were officially sealed and not opened for public inspection, originally to hide that Queen Mary’s brother, Prince Francis of Teck, who died in Balmoral at the age of 40, had left dear jewelry – the Cambridge Emeralds – to his mistress, society beauty Ellen Constance, inadvertently married to the Earl of Kilmorey.
Fast forward to 2011 and the Sovereign Grant Act which replaced the old civil list and again required the Queen’s assent.
This act greatly increased his wealth, including revenue for using the seabed up to 12 nautical miles from land for offshore wind power, money that had previously gone to the treasury.
A blank check
In 2010/11, the Civil List gave him £ 7.9million, around £ 15million today. The Sovereign Grant for 2020/21 is £ 85.9million. Not so much marking your own homework as filling in the numbers on a blank check.
In a bizarre consent application, police are also prohibited from searching for stolen or looted artifacts from the Queen’s private estates, for a secret reason.
The Cultural Property Act of 2017 enshrined a 1954 United Nations treaty aimed at preventing the destruction of works of art in future wars, following looting and destruction by the Nazis in World War II .
So the police can search and seize looted treasures anywhere except Balmoral or Sandringham.
Prince Charles was also able to use the covert procedure to control the acts which led to tenants on his estates in Cornwall, Scilly and Somerset being arrested for buying their homes from him. Changes to the law in England allowed tenants to buy their properties after a number of years.
However, Charles’s estates received a special exemption.
The QUEEN’s consent seems to have started in the 18th century. It is a convention rather than a law, a matter of parliamentary procedure, according to Erskine May, the bible of parliamentary procedure. In 2014, a parliamentary committee considered its abolition but stopped dead in its tracks, saying it had seen “no evidence to suggest that the law is ever changed.”
Thomas Adams, a constitutional law specialist at the University of Oxford, disagrees. He says it gives the Queen and Charles “the kind of leverage over legislation lobbyists would only dream of.”
And because it’s a convention, it could easily be abolished by both parliaments, and it wouldn’t need legislation if they decided to do so. But they didn’t.
So we remain subjects, not citizens. And although consent remains a convention, the Queen and Charles can continue to act in secrecy and without democratic accountability.
On Friday, a parliamentary petition had only 98 signatures out of the 10,000 required to trigger a debate.
Don’t expect a change anytime soon.