The monarch is not supposed to meddle in parliament. But that key principle is now in doubt
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 [ … ]