LONDON — In the wake of an investigation by the Guardian, Buckingham Palace has denied that Queen Elizabeth II attempted to block a law passed in 1976 that could have shed light on her private wealth, the extent of which is kept secret
The Guardian published a report over the weekend based on documents from the British National Archives, appearing to reveal that the monarch’s personal lawyer intervened in the legislative process during the 1970s, pushing for changes in a draft law to keep a proposed transparency rule from application to her private shareholdings, interests and investments.
“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 Guardian reported.
According to government memos, the queen’s lawyer argued that such disclosures could embarrass the crown and become the subject of widespread scrutiny and “possible controversy.” Under a long-standing parliamentary procedure known as “Queen’s Consent,” ministers must notify the queen or Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, when a proposed bill is likely to affect their interests or prerogatives.
On Monday, the Guardian published a follow-up story on the royal family’s use of the consent procedure, reporting that the queen and Prince Charles had used the measure to vet more than 1,000 laws, including some of which were directly linked to royal-owned properties. Buckingham Palace did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the revelations.
The palace’s initial denial did not appear to address head-on some of the reportage. While the palace said it did not “block” the legislation, it did, according to the Guardian, push for changes — wielding “the kind of influence over legislation that lobbyists would only dream of,” Thomas Adams, a specialist in constitutional law at the University of Oxford, told the newspaper.
The British government’s website states that consent must be sought by ministers if a bill has impact on “personal property or personal interests of the Crown” — a stipulation some critics argue should be abolished in a modern democracy.
Buckingham Palace said that the sovereign’s role in the process was “purely formal,” adding that “consent is always granted by the monarch where requested by government,” the BBC reported.
The queen’s consent is separate from royal assent, under which the queen formally approves new laws that have completed all parliamentary stages.
“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 palace said.
The modified agreement, which included the secrecy clause for which the queen’s legal team lobbied, came into force in 1976, exempting the Bank of England Nominees, a subsidiary of the Bank of England, from transparency measures.
In April 2011, the government confirmed that the company was “no longer exempt from company law disclosure requirements.”
The queen held shares in the company, according to the Guardian, which have since been dissolved. What happened to the alleged royal investments in the subsidiary remains unclear.
The queen, who on Saturday entered her 70th year as reigning monarch, remains in isolation at Windsor Castle with 99-year-old husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage Britain.
As head of state, the queen is expected to remain politically neutral at all times, a stance reiterated on the royal family’s official website. “Her Majesty does not intervene in any political or personal disputes,” the website reads.
The entirety of the queen’s personal wealth remains unknown. She is thought to be the most wealthy member of Britain’s royal family. Last year’s Sunday Times Rich List estimated that the 94-year-old is worth some $480 million.
Much of the queen’s income remains shrouded in secrecy, although some of her worth is believed to stem from trusts that make up the Royal Collection, including the Crown Jewels and the Tower of London, along with various properties.