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Queen’s lawyers lobbied Scottish government for her land to be exempt from new climate change law

The Queen‘s lawyers secretly lobbied the Scottish government for her private land to be exempt from a new climate change law, it has been revealed.

The monarch, whose Balmoral Estate makes her a major landowner in the country, is the only person not required to use renewable energy to heat her buildings.

In documents unearthed by Lily Humphreys, a researcher for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the use of a parliamentary process known as Queen’s consent gave the crown prior notice of the upcoming legislation.

The procedure, by which the government is required to ask the monarch for permission to debate laws that affect her, happens during the drafting of a bill that is in the stages of going through parliament.

It is suggested in the papers, seen by The Guardian, that Nicola Sturgeon’s government failed to divulge the Queen’s lobbying during a parliamentary debate to question why the monarch was obtaining an exemption from the green energy bill.

The Queen’s lawyers are said to have secured the exemption five months ago, which only applies to her private land in the country, namely Balmoral, and not the Crown Estate, which includes Glenlivet.

The Queen (pictured in September 2014), whose Balmoral Estate makes her a major landowner in Scotland, is the only person not required to use renewable energy to heat her buildings

On February 3, officials working for Paul Wheelhouse, who was energy minister at the time, noted that the monarch’s lawyers contacted them about the heat networks bill, which aims to contribute to Scotland’s climate change targets by increasing district heating in the country.

The bill, which became law on March 30, also allows developers and operators of heat networks to compulsorily acquire land from landowners. 

Mr Wheelhouse had agreed to amend the bill, saying the ‘minister agreed to proposed amendment that would addressed [sic] concerns from Queen’s solicitors’.

Fourteen days later, on February 17, the Scottish Government was told that the Queen had given her assent for the bill to be passed.

During a debate between MSPs over the bill five days afterwards, Mr Wheelhouse submitted an amendment that applied solely to land owned by the monarch.

Andy Wightman, an independent MSP at the time, contended it was wrong to only pick out the Queen for preferential treatment.

Mr Wheelhouse did not mention that the Queen’s lawyers had lobbied for the alteration and claimed the amendment was ‘required to ensure the smooth passage of the bill’, although Buckingham Palace says her consent is ‘purely formal’.

Former Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie expressed concerns over ‘secret doors’ made available to the Queen to change laws.

He said: ‘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.

‘That’s not what people would expect in a democracy. I’m sure people will be shocked to see the Scottish Government’s willingness to pander to the process. 

The Queen's lawyers are said to have secured the exemption five months ago, which only applies to her private land in the country, namely Balmoral (pictured above)

The Queen’s lawyers are said to have secured the exemption five months ago, which only applies to her private land in the country, namely Balmoral (pictured above)

‘Their readiness to hide it from public view shows they have no interest in acting transparently. 

‘There should be no secret doors to changing the law. Others who lobby for changes have to declare it. That should be true for everyone.

‘The Scottish Government must come forward and share the full extent to which this process influences the laws we live under.’  

It follows claims emerging in February that more than 1,000 new laws were vetted by The Queen or Prince Charles before they were approved by Parliament.

The procedure, known as Queen’s Consent, has been used on Bills ranging from social security issues to the Article 50 law allowing Britain to leave EU.

Some of the wide-ranging legislation also affected her powers, wealth and personal property such as her Balmoral and Sandringham estates.

At least 1,062 parliamentary bills have reportedly been subjected to Queen’s consent. 

More than 1,000 new laws have been vetted by The Queen or Prince Charles before they were approved by Parliament, it was claimed in February

More than 1,000 new laws have been vetted by The Queen or Prince Charles before they were approved by Parliament, it was claimed in February

Stretching back to the London County Council Bill in 1952 at the start of her reign, the data shows that the procedure has been use far more extensively than previously thought. 

As well as major legislation on matters like Brexit and establishing the Scottish Parliament, Queen’s consent has been used on obscure rules on car parking charges and rates for caravans and boats.

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson 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. This process does not change the nature of any such bill.’ 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Scottish government said: ‘Scottish government policy is that the crown should be subject to regulatory requirements on the same basis as everyone else, unless there is a legitimate reason for an exemption or variation. 

‘However, crown consent is required by law if a bill impacts the private property or interests of the sovereign – and that is what happened in this case.’

What is Queen’s Consent? 

Queen’s Consent is a procedure by which the government is required to ask the monarch for permission to debate laws that affect her.

It happens during the drafting of a bill that is in the process of going through parliament, and is declared in parliament usually at the second or third reading stage. 

There are two main areas where it is used: 

  •  On matters that  affect the Royal prerogative (the powers of state), such as the ability to declare war, granting of honours or issuing passports;
  • When a law affects the assets of the crown, such as the royal palaces or hereditary revenues, including the Duchy of Lancaster or Duchy of Cornwall, as well as personal property or personal ‘interests’ of the Crown. 
The monarch is pictured reading the Queen's Speech on the Sovereign's Throne in the House of Lords chamber during the State Opening of Parliament on May 11

The monarch is pictured reading the Queen’s Speech on the Sovereign’s Throne in the House of Lords chamber during the State Opening of Parliament on May 11

Parliamentary lawyers would decide that a bill requires such consent, and a government minister would write to the Queen to request permission for parliament to debate it.

A copy of the bill is sent to the Queen’s private lawyers, who have 14 days to consider it and to advise her.

If the Queen grants her consent, parliament can debate the legislation and the process is formally signified in Hansard, the record of parliamentary debates.

But if the Queen withheld consent, then the bill cannot proceed and parliament is in effect banned from debating it. But in practice this is unlikely to ever happen.

A spokesman for the Queen said of the Consent procedure: ‘Queen’s consent is a parliamentary process, with the role of sovereign purely formal.

‘Consent is always granted by the monarch where requested by government. Any assertion that the sovereign has blocked legislation is simply incorrect.’

Consent is also different to Royal Assent, which is given after a bill passed through both Houses of Parliament and must be made into law. Assent is needed for all legislation.

The last time it was withheld was by Queen Anne for the Scottish Militia Bill 1708, who did not give it on the advice of ministers for fear that the proposed militia ‘would be disloyal’.   


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