Queen’s Consent: Monarch exempt from climate change laws

Queen's Consent
By using Queen's Consent to pressure Scottish Ministers, the Queen's estates are exempt from this key climate law. Source: Scottish Parliament (via Flickr).
An ongoing investigation by The Guardian newspaper has revealed that the Queen’s lawyers pressured Scottish ministers to exempt her from a law to reduce carbon emissions.

By Ella Lloyd | Political Editor

The Heat Networks Bill will see clusters of homes and businesses heated using renewable energy pipelines, rather than fossil fuels.

Following these recent efforts, however, the Queen will be the only person in Scotland exempt from facilitating the construction of these pipelines. Correspondence between Buckingham Palace and the Scottish Government, exposed by a researcher for the Scottish Liberal Democrats under a Freedom of Information request, reveals how the process of Queen’s Consent was used to gain the exemption.

Breakdown: What is ‘Queen’s Consent’?

Queen’s Consent (or King’s consent when the monarch is male) is a parliamentary procedure dating back to the 1700s, whereby the sovereign’s consent is needed for a bill affecting the crown’s “prerogative or interests” to be debated by parliament.

It is distinct from Royal Assent, which is required for all legislation, and granted after a bill has passed parliament. In theory, Queen’s consent is a formality, and consent is always given. The evidence uncovered by The Guardian, however, suggests the process is being exploited to intervene in parliament and change laws to benefit the Crown.

The exemption concerns the use of compulsory purchase orders, which would allow for land or property to be obtained from landowners, for uses of great public interest. As one of the largest landowners in Scotland, compulsory purchase powers would be limited in relation to the Queen’s private estates. Documents reveal that after concerns had been raised by the Queen’s lawyers, the then energy minister Paul Wheelhouse agreed to the amendment and Queen’s consent was given.

This action is in opposition to the Royal Family’s previous public commitment to tackling climate change. Prince Charles is a long-term advocate for environmental awareness, and his son Prince William recently joined him in this pursuit, launching the Earthshot Prize to find solutions to environmental problems.

This is not the first time Queen’s consent has been used to lobby for changes to laws.

In February, the Guardian published their investigation into the use of both Queen’s and Prince’s consent to vet over 1000 laws. Following this revelation, a petition was signed by over 50,000 people, calling for a parliamentary investigation into the obscure mechanism. The use of which, to intervene in parliamentary processes, has been criticised by some as undemocratic and an abuse of power. 

In Scotland, where the process is known as Crown Consent, the Queen has vetted 67 bills in the last 2 decades. Both the Palace and the Scottish Government refused to disclose how many of those bills were amended as a result of the Queen’s lobbying.

The Guardian’s investigation, however, also suggests that the Scottish government may have failed to disclose the lobbying when the amendment was questioned during parliamentary debate in Holyrood.

Then Independent MSP Andy Wightman questioned the amendment on the grounds that preferential treatment for the Queen was unfair. Wheelhouse answered that the amendment was needed to “ensure the smooth passage of the bill” but did not reveal that the Queen’s lawyers had lobbied for it.

A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said, “The royal household can be consulted on bills in order to ensure the technical accuracy and consistency of the application of the bill to the Crown, a complex legal principle governed by statute and common law” and insisted that “This process does not change the nature of any such bill”.

Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie argued that lobbying should have been declared and that “This research shows that Queen’s consent isn’t just some arcane legacy from parliament’s past. It’s a live process. Laws are secretly being changed behind Scotland’s back as a result.”

Anti-Monarchy Pressure Group Republic condemned the move as “disgraceful” in a recent Twitter exchange, calling for ‘an urgent review of the royal consent rule’.

Ella Lloyd Politics

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