The Queen’s Consent – a strange and obscure feature of the constitution of the United Kingdom – and why it should be abolished

8th February 2021

This post is about a thing of which you may not have heard.

The Queen’s Consent.

No, not that.

The Queen’s Consent is instead an odd and generally unknown feature of the constitution of the United Kingdom.

It is in the news today because of some investigative reporting by the Guardian newspaper.

The news report is here and their explainer about the Queen’s Consent is here.


So what is the Queen’s Consent – and why, if at all, does it matter?

Let us start with what it is not.

The Queen’s Consent is not the ‘royal assent’ that is given to a bill passed by parliament that transforms it, by legal magic, into an act of parliament.

True, the royal assent is itself not widely understood.

Many think it is the queen herself that signs the legislation, but royal assent to legislation is done on the monarch’s behalf (and the last monarch to give royal assent personally was Victoria).

But Queen’s Consent is a different constitutional beast.


Queen’s Consent is the right of the monarch (and the heir to the throne) to be consulted on – and thereby to veto – any legislation that affects the private interests of the crown.

Imagine if the constitution of the United States provided formally for the president of the day – Donald Trump or otherwise – to intervene in congress to stop or to amend proposed legislation that affected the financial interests of the president or the president’s family.

That is what the Queen’s Consent provides for in the United Kingdom.

It is a structural right to lobby beyond the dreams of any cynical Westminster ‘public affairs’ firm.


There are a couple of things to note before we get onto just how strange this constitutional device is.

First, this is not about placing the crown beyond or above the law – it is instead (ahem) ‘upstream’ from the law being in place.

It is about being able to shape the law before it takes any effect.

Second, it is not about the public powers of the crown – the so-called ‘royal prerogative’ though the crown also has the right also to be consulted about legislation that affects those powers.

This is about the right to be consulted about proposed laws that affect the crown’s private interests rather than its public powers.


And now we come to four strange things about the Queen’s Consent.

First – and notwithstanding today’s front page splash in the Guardian – a good deal about the Queen’s Consent is in the public domain, hiding in plain sight.

It is just that few people know about it or care.

In the cabinet office’s guide to legislation for civil servants it warrants an entire chapter.

There is also an entire 32-page pamphlet devoted to the topic for the benefit of those who draft legislation.

The detailed ‘Erskine May’ book of authority on parliamentary procedure also has a section on the subject.

(Look carefully at the wording of what Erskine May says here.)

And in 2014 there was even a parliamentary select committee report on the practice.

But unless you are a constitutional obsessive you would, however, not be aware of any of this.


The second curious feature of the Queen’s Consent is perhaps the most extraordinary one.

The Queen’s Consent has no legal basis whatsoever.

There is no statute, nor even (it seems) any parliamentary resolution.

It is instead is something that is just, well, done.

If you scroll back up you will see that even Erskine May does not even offer any authority for the procedure.

And if you look at the practitioner’s legal encyclopaedia Halsbury’s Laws of England the authority that is given for the practice is Erskine May.

The 2014 select committee took evidence from specialists in parliamentary procedure and constitutional law experts – and the select committee could not identify any legal basis for the practice.

The only (supposed) authority is that it is ‘long-established’.

Given that the parliamentary bible Erskine May insists that the Queen’s Consent is ‘required‘ one would hope (and even expect) there to be some legal basis for the consent, but there is none.

To the extent that the Queen’s Consent has any formal basis at all, it is entirely based on parliamentary procedure.

And this means that it would be easy to abolish, for what is giveth by parliamentary procedure can be be taketh away by parliamentary procedure.

No law would need to be passed at all.

The queen would not need to be consulted, either by the Queen’s Consent or otherwise.


The third oddity about the Queen’s Consent is similar to the second.

For just as there is no visible legal basis for this structural bias, there is also hardly any visible effect.

It is all done in secret.

And this is why today’s Guardian report has some significance.

It appears to be a documented example where the Queen’s Consent was used to actually shape legislation.

Yes, it is from nearly fifty years ago.

And yes, it is partly dependent on a 1975 speech from Geoffrey Howe in parliament, who delightfully savages us like a dead sheep all these years later.

But – given the secrecy that cloaks the use of the Queen’s Consent procedure, and the general restrictions on official records in the United Kingdom – that is the best evidence we are likely to readily get in practice.

Some will note the lack of evidence of this formal step having any effect and will contend from that lack of evidence that the formal step is merely a formality.

That there is nothing to look at here, and that there is nothing for us too worry our heads about.


The evidence we do have indicates that the process is taken seriously and is intended to be practical.

Chapter 6 of the guide for those drafting legislation is insistent that notice be given to the court with sufficient time for it to have effect – and also that it should not be done prematurely.

None of this would be relevant, still less stipulated, if the stage was merely formal and ceremonial.

Those responsible for legislation are reminded again and again to make sure that the stage is treated so that it is efficacious for the crown.

Here it is worth noting that until fairly recently this guidance was hidden from public view using the excuse that it was covered by legal professional privilege – from the 2014 select committee report:

Steers on mere ceremonial steps are usually not anywhere close to being subject to legal professional privilege.

A further indication that the Queen’s Consent is a consequential stage rather than some ceremonial gimmick is the sheer detail of what has been and can be covered.

None of this would make sense if the Queen’s Consent was a mere formality.


The fourth curious – and somewhat quaint and amusing – feature of the Queen’s Consent is how it make a private solicitors’ office a formal part of the constitution of the United Kingdom.

You would think this elevated role for a private individual this was the stuff of fiction – like George Smiley visiting Connie Sachs at her country cottage, or Sherlock Holmes visiting his brother at the Diogenes Club:

‘I did not know you quite so well in those days. One has to be discreet when one talks of high matters of state. You are right in thinking that he is under the British government. You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the British government.’

But it is there in black and white.

For this formal stage of the Queen’s Consent a letter has to be sent to a private solicitor in Lincoln’s Inn Square:

The ‘language of the letters should be formal in nature’ – so presumably a bill could be frustrated if ‘Dear Sirs’ was followed by an incorrect ‘Yours sincerely’ – or even, gods forbid, there was not a ‘.’ after ‘Mr’.

It is all rather silly.

But what is not rather silly but rather serious is that that this is not to a lawyer in any public capacity in the royal household, and still less to the government’s own treasury solicitor, but to a private solicitor professionally charged with protecting and promoting private interests – and that the whole procedure is geared around the convenience of the private solicitor obtaining and then executing instructions from that solicitor’s private client.


And this being England – and this is more an English trait rather than a British one – there is no express mention of ‘veto’ in any of the official documents.

The language used is in terms of a consent that is ‘required’ but the implications of the consent not given are left unspoken.

In practice, and given the lack of evidence of the consent being formally withheld, what this means is that the crown is given the right and opportunity to shape prospective legislation – or in the case today disclosed by the Guardian – to make alternative arrangements before the legislation passes.

The question is not about what happens if consent is not given, but what things need to change for the necessary consent to be given.


There will be some who, even with all this information, will just shrug with a ‘so what?’.

There is no evidence – at least recent evidence – of the practice doing any harm.


If the practice is, in fact, a mere formality then nothing will be lost with its abolition.

And if the practice does – as the procedure implies – have real effects, then it also should be abolished.

There is no good reason why the head of any state should have the privilege of the protection and promotion of their private interests by their private lawyer as a formal part of the law-making process. 

This would be wrong it had been for the benefit of President Trump’s family for bills before congress, and it is just as wrong here.


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36 thoughts on “The Queen’s Consent – a strange and obscure feature of the constitution of the United Kingdom – and why it should be abolished”

  1. You remark on the absence of a express veto, begging the question “Is the Queen’s private solicitor Ms. Jackie Weaver by any chance?

    1. Nothing in my post says otherwise on that point – and I even link to three documents that set out this.

          1. I’m not sure it’s any more secret than other processes in preparing a Bill – getting policy and drafting authority from Cabinet committees, exchanges with Parly Counsel about the best way to give effect to a policy intention etc. Is there anything stopping a Parliamentarian asking the Minister signalling Queen’s Consent what amendments (if any) were made to the Bill to obtain it?

        1. That it is done is no secret. But are we able to compare the “before” and “after” drafts so as to see what modification was made at the monarch’s direction?

          1. Well, as a general rule, Government doesn’t share drafts of primary legislation until it has got to a fit state for introduction. As I said in my comment at 12.16, I don’t think there’s anything to stop an MP or Peer asking the question, but equally shouldn’t be beyond the wit of a legislator to read a Bill and see if there seems to be special treatment for the Queen, and if so, to probe it (for example, by laying an amendment removing any such special treatment).

  2. Just as a minor point, I think you used the same screenshot twice rather than having a separate image for Erskine May.

  3. Thank you. Very interesting.

    I predict several things about the comments that will follow.

    1) there will be fewer of them than there were about a parish council in Cheshire

    2) someone will pop up and tell DAG to stop attacking the Queen. He or she might (or might not) use as a justification for the disturbing power of the monarch or the heir to the throne to protect their personal property by heading off laws that they don’t like the maintenance of a high value personal estate meaning that the public purse does not have to subsidise the Crown as much as it might. Or he or she might just miss the point of the blog altogether.

  4. A light shone on the real meaning of ‘sovereignty’ in this land of forelock-tuggers – would it be fair to say the UK is still a feudal country?

  5. I agree wholeheartedly DAG. It is high time some of these overly deferential-to-the-monarchy anachronisms were done away with. There are those of us who do not regard the constitutional monarchy we have in the UK as fit for purpose for a modern 21st century democracy, but such root and branch change, along with a fairer system of electing our representatives and the abolition of the utterly corrupted House of Lords, will have to wait until England is shorn of Scotland and Northern Ireland and comes to a stark recognition of its reduced place in the world. Otherwise England will be everything one laughs about Ruritania: ridiculous uniforms and meaningless rituals and formalities, fit only for fawning photographs in “Hello” magazine. No one can deny that QEII has done her “duty”, but change needs to come.

  6. In the 1960s I learned from Fowler’s English Usage that for abbreviations the full stop was only to be used when the word had been truncated (as in Rev. for Reverend or Av. for Avenue) but not when the first and last letters were preserved (as in St for Saint or Mr for Mister).
    So Dr would mean Doctor, but Dr. would mean Drive.
    I suppose such niceties are long gone …

    1. ‘Mr’ for the antique ‘Mr.’ is very much alive in British English – see any book edited under OUP rules, the BBC, the Guardian … So it is the Cabinet Office’s writers who are being antique here.

      It is different in American English, in which ‘Mr.’ is perhaps the norm. ‘Mr.’ is the style of the New York Times, for example.

      Fowler and his heirs at Oxford are wonderful examples of English rationality and clear-thinking, and the disposing of old assumptions.

    2. There was a story about an attempted extradition from Ireland to the UK many years ago; it’s quite possibly apocryphal.

      It was argued in court that the warrant of extradition had not been properly completed; there was no comma after the house number in the person’s address.

      The court held that the warrant was improper, and the person could not be extradited.

  7. Fascinating – I have to eat a bit of hat about the Guardian; well done for raising it even if in inevitably Guardian terms.

    You mention that no one knows why it exists. Could it be related to the creation of Crown Estate and Civil List? Is it “required” because the deal was that the Crown would hand over its assets in return for a stipend and since that depends in part on the Duchies and Estate, legislation affecting that should pass through one of the two parties to the original deal? “Should” would be “ought to” rather than contractually.
    Until C20 the crown was tight for money and the Crown Estates and Duchies were not a treasure trove. Now the costs of the crown, even after chopping much of the civil list, are high and the value of the Estate is huge. That inevitably shines light on something probably not considered very important back then.
    The analogy to Trump is a bit stretched. The Queen and Wales give quite a lot of information about what they receive and voluntarily pay taxes – although not sure we know how aggressively they interpret the tax code. We also know a fair amount about how they spend it. HMG and Parliament ultimately decide how and how much.
    Perhaps the real issue is that the Crown Estates arrangement continues to be muddled with a reluctance to pick clarity perhaps because it might involve giving their income rather more absolutely to the sovereign.
    Anyway, lots of reading material thoughtfully provided.

  8. You may recall that it’s absence from the Act was used to prove that the Brexit referendum was not binding, and was pleaded by those who were involved in the Article 50 matter pre-Miller (see Leveson’s order of 26 July 2016) and then picked up and used by David Pannick etc.

    Until we abolish the anachronism of a consititutional monarchy, anything – however apparently daft – that restrains the exercise of autocratic powers by a largely unrestrained Prime Minister, should be kept. It certainly provides an opportunity for publicity and delay and if the PM or Government forget to apply any subsequent Act is Void.

  9. In the US, the use by a President (or any other public employee) of his or her office for private gain is illegal. In the UK, such use by Her Majesty is, it appears, actively encouraged.

    1. I think the more realistic way to compare those countries is to say that in the US using your office for private gain is supposed to be illegal but isn’t, while in the UK it’s supposed to be legal but isn’t.

  10. ‘If the practice is, in fact, a mere formality then nothing will be lost with its abolition.

    And if the practice does – as the procedure implies – have real effects, then it also should be abolished.’

    The choice seems to be clear to DAG. But not to the powers that be and the country will be left to enjoy the consequences.

    Although the heir has the power now, perhaps he is held back by the sovereign? When that is no longer the case will the consequences be more interesting? And what of the next generation?

    1. The heir also has the advantage of the second bite of the cherry with the related “Prince’s Consent” requirement which gets even more confusing because he is also Prince and Steward of Scotland and there is the need for Scottish Parliamentary rigmarole that prevents even any debate.

  11. The official response seems to say (or at least imply) that consent is only ever given or withheld on the advice of a minister, which would make it OK.

    And, points for consistency, that’s what they said in 2013 too:

    The Cabinet Office said Parliament was required to seek the consent of the Queen and the Prince of Wales for certain bills and consent had only ever been refused on ministers’ advice and never for a government bill.

    (But they’re not saying when consent was refused. Curious minds would presumably like to know…)

    1. The point of giving the Palace a fortnight to mull over the proposed legislation is that adjustments can be suggested that assure that consent would not be withheld. All concerned can pretend that Parliament has remained supreme, but it’s only by having it first ask when and how deep to voluntarily kneel.

  12. Mmm. Many aspects of our law and constitution are not written down, but they exist and have effect. Is Queen’s (and Prince of Wales’s) consent part of our common law, or just convention or procedure? When did it start? Presumably it has never been litigated, but what happens if a bill that “requires” consent is introduced without it, and why?

    I suppose one advantage of a written constitution is that this sort of thing (no doubt there are other peculiarities) would have to be written down in black and white so we could see it and then decide whether we want to keep it or not.

  13. Reading the article in the Guardian, its reference to the monarch’s & her heir’s private interests some 50 years ago and your narrative, made me wonder about more recent developments such as the conversion of pasture land to a ‘loved or loathed’, upmarket, Edwardian style housing estate on the outskirts of Dorchester.

  14. The legislation in question here appears to be section 27 of the Companies Act 1976 – – where sub-section 9 provided an exemption within the gift of the Secretary of State (after consultation with the Governor of the Bank of England).

    That was rewritten in section 212 of the Companies Act 1985 with the exemption in section 216(5) –

    And rewritten again as section 793 of the Companies Act 2006 with the exemption in section 796, which remains in force –

    It is about public (usually listed) companies being able to require a registered shareholder to tell the company what shares they hold and in what capacity, and if anyone else has an interest (such as a beneficial owner behind a nominee). Typically it is used if a company is concerned that some may be building a stake before launching a takeover. Concerns about the Queen “hid[ing] her wealth” in the 1970s seem a little overblown.

  15. Should the Queen not have an say in the laws of the country? Isn’t that one of the perks of being monarch?

  16. These procedures do have a statutory basis in respect of the Welsh Parliament (Senedd). Section 111 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 requires the Senedd to adopt Standing Orders that replicate the Westminster procedure. I believe the Scotland Act contains a similar provision. The full text of the Section is:

    “The standing orders must include provision for securing that the [F2Senedd ] may only pass a Bill containing provisions which would, if contained in a Bill for an Act of Parliament, require the consent of Her Majesty or the Duke of Cornwall if such consent has been signified in accordance with the standing orders.”

  17. Sounds like the reverse of Roger Casement – said to have been “hanged by a comma” when the House of Lords had to decide whether his actions in seeking assistance in Germany for the Easter Rising in Ireland were within the scope of being “adherent to the King’s Enemies in his Realm, giving to them Aid and Comfort in the Realm, or elsewhere” – that is, which parts of the long clause were qualified by “or elsewhere” (“par aillours” in the Norman French): where the enemies were, or where the aid and comfort were given, or both.

    1. (Sorry, that was meant to be in reply to Robert Campbell above, and his tale of the extradition stymied by a comma.)

  18. “And this being England – and this is more an English trait rather than a British one – there is no express mention of ‘veto’ in any of the official documents”

    I feel like I understand the general idea behind the comparison, but let me put this question out there: What difference do you make between ‘English’ and ‘British’?

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