Politicians and academics, including at Oxford University, have heavily criticised the widespread use of the constitutional process known as Queen’s Consent which has been exposed in The Guardian this week.
Professor Thomas Adams, a legal scholar at St Catharine’s College, explained to The Oxford Blue that Queen’s Consent is “a process whereby the monarch is consulted around proposed laws that affect their prerogative powers as well as their landed and personal interests.”
The use of the process in the latter sense, to protect the Crown’s interests in a material rather than constitutional sense, has attracted the ire of academics and politicians alike. Former Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, Norman Baker, described this as a “constitutional outrage” in The Guardian, and he urged Parliament to abolish the process.
The Guardian has found that Queen’s Consent has been employed by the Queen and the Prince of Wales to examine and review over 1000 laws, including legislation on agriculture, the European Union, data protection, crime, parking charges and same-sex marriage.
Some of the instances in which it has been reported that the Royal Family have used this system pose questions about the Queen’s status as constitutional figurehead. For example, The Guardian has reported that Prince Charles used Queen’s Consent to prevent tenants on his lands from buying their houses through exceptions to otherwise nationwide legislation. The changes to the 1967 Leasehold Reform Act and 1993 Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act both protected the royal family’s income at the potential expense of citizens resident on their lands.
Professor Adams, addressing whether this process should therefore be scrapped, added: “the basic question I think is whether it makes sense in a democracy to give one person, who has no democratic credentials, power over legislation that affects their interests.” Professor Adams hinted at his position on the matter by saying that he believes that “the question supplies its own answer”.
Adams is not alone among UK legal academics in his doubts about the propriety of Queen’s Consent powers. Dr Adam Tucker, of the University of Liverpool, has argued that the principle must be “scrapped” now that the extent of its use has been made public. Dr Tucker also highlighted that Queen’s Consent “must not be confused with… royal assent”, a constitutional feature more in-step with the British monarch’s role as a figurehead who rubber-stamps legislation, rather than affecting the course of its passage through Parliament.
Professor Adams also suggested that replacing Queen’s Consent with more parliamentary means of scrutinising legislation could strengthen UK democracy where the current process calls it into question. Adams told The Blue, “The issue of replacement would be for Parliament, and is one which I imagine it would seek to address through the committee system.”
A spokesperson for the royal family has denied that Queen’s Consent is ever used to block legislation.