Adam Tucker (The Queen has more power over British law than we ever thought, 8 February) argues that there is no place in a modern democracy for the convention of Queen’s consent to legislation before it is agreed by parliament. He has a point. But, as I argued in a report for the UCL Constitution Unit published last autumn, the parliamentary convention muddles up two quite separate issues – interference in the prerogative powers of the crown and effects on the private interests of the current sovereign and heir.
There is an argument for enabling the sovereign and heir to comment on proposed laws affecting their private interests. They have no vote or voice in parliament – as is necessary to preserve their constitutional position. Queen’s consent is a somewhat heavy-handed way of achieving this, and can give rise to the kind of concerns expressed by Tucker. But while they may have influence, and some may think it undue, it is misleading to describe it as a veto. If consent were refused, parliament would be free to carry on legislating without it, if it chose to. The rule is self-imposed – parliament is free to ignore it.
The requirement for consent to interference in prerogative powers is more obviously problematic. These powers are mostly exercised by the government and attach to the crown in name only. Circumscribing prerogatives is what parliament does. It may seem polite to ask for crown consent to do so, but since it cannot be refused, it is an empty courtesy. And doing so risks appearing to draw the sovereign into political controversy. This aspect of consent should be abandoned. The sovereign could ceremonially confirm that those prerogatives were at the disposal of parliament in perpetuity by giving an undertaking which might be repeated at the start of each new parliament, or even each new reign.
Honorary senior research associate, The Constitution Unit, UCL
• The revelation that the Queen has been using the royal consent rule to ensure her own interests are protected hasn’t shocked me all that much, although the detail is fascinating as it is shocking (Revealed: Queen lobbied for change in law to hide her private wealth, 7 February). We’ve known for some time that Prince Charles also benefits from dozens of exemptions and privileges afforded to the Duchy of Cornwall in laws passed over the last 40 years.
Make no mistake, this is an abuse of power by the royals. There are also wider and very serious implications of this abuse, given the close relationship the royals have with powerful people both here in the UK and abroad. Given the excessive secrecy surrounding the royals, how can we know that they aren’t also lobbying on behalf of Middle Eastern kings or American billionaires, all under the guise of protecting their own modesty? Royal consent needs to be abolished, and the palace needs to release all correspondence relating to its lobbying of government going back to the start of the Queen’s reign. Otherwise, how can we have any confidence that our own head of state and her family haven’t been abusing a constitutional loophole on an industrial scale?
Chief executive officer, Republic
• During the 1975 House of Commons debate on the publication by the Morning Star of leaked documents, referred to in your report on the Queen’s lobbying, the left Labour MP Arthur Latham questioned the prime minister, Harold Wilson, on public access to information.
Suggesting that the leak was “something of a mouse compared with the much larger cat which has been let out of the bag”, Latham asked Wilson to comment “on the rather devious, even deceitful, method that it was apparently intended to adopt to cover up the royal income? Would he not agree that, irrespective of the impropriety about the leak itself, the fact that this information has been made public at present represents a public service performed by the press?”
Wilson was emphatic in his reply: “No, Sir – nothing justifies a leak.” That was on 24 February 1975. Although it has taken 46 years for the details to become known, we should be grateful that Guardian journalists investigate secrecy of this type, needed now as much as ever.
Dr Mike Sheaff
University of Plymouth
•Is the Guardian hoping to promote Boris Johnson for president? Lay off the Queen.