Prince Charles exploited a controversial procedure to compel government ministers to secretly change a bill to benefit his land estate, according to documents uncovered by the Guardian.
Official documents discovered in the National Archives reveal the ministers of John Major’s government gave in to his demands amid fears that resistance to the heir to the throne could trigger a constitutional crisis.
Ministers backed down to ‘avoid a major row’ with the prince, allowing him to force the hand of the elected government.
The disclosure of the documents provides further evidence of how the Royal Family used the secret procedure known as Queen’s Consent to change legislation to benefit their private interests.
As part of the procedure, the monarch and her eldest son are given copies of bills in advance so they can consider whether the legislation affects their public powers or their private assets, such as her Duchy of Cornwall estate. or the private estate of Sandringham.
Ministers must obtain the consent of the Queen and the Prince before relevant legislation can be approved by parliament. This procedure is different from the more familiar procedure of Royal Assent, a formality by which a bill becomes law.
A Guardian investigation has found the Queen’s consent procedure has been used by the monarch for decades to privately push for change. During his reign, ministers had to obtain the Queen’s or her son’s approval for more than 1,000 Acts of Parliament before they were implemented.
Buckingham Palace and the government say the Queen’s consent is a “purely formal” part of the parliamentary process and is granted by the monarch routinely. The palace said “consent is always granted by the monarch at the request of the government” and that “this process does not change the nature of such a bill.”
But newly revealed documents, relating to a tenancy reform law that came into effect in 1993, provide detailed evidence of Charles’ pressure on elected ministers to secure an exemption to prevent his own tenants from having the right to buy their own house.
The Windsor family used the consent procedure to review at least four bills that have changed tenancy laws since the 1960s. Under these laws, tenants live in properties for a certain number of years on a lease, instead of being the pure and simple owners. The changes gave tenants across the country the legal power, under certain circumstances, to buy their homes from landlords.
Internal letters and memos from September and October 1992 show Charles took a ‘close personal interest’ in Newton St Loe, a small Somerset village that is part of the Duchy of Cornwall’s £1billion estate, and insisted to have his properties there excluded from the project. invoice. His lobbying secured a special exemption for the village which, to date, has left tenants in a more difficult financial situation.
The documents also reveal Charles wrote directly to Major in October 1992, noting that he would shortly receive a request for consent to the lease bill and expressing his “particular concern” about another aspect of the proposed law – which, he feared -it, would allow tenants to buy and redevelop historic properties without preserving their “special character”.
“It is important to avoid a major argument with the Prince of Wales”
Charles, as heir to the throne, receives a private annual income – currently around £20 million – from the profits made by the Duchy of Cornwall, a property estate. The 52,000 hectare estate collects rents from properties in 20 counties across England and Wales. However, in some areas, its tenants are not allowed to buy their homes. These tenants, the number of which is unknown, continue to pay rent to the duchy – money which in turn is paid to the prince.
Last year, after a Guardian investigation revealed that the Windsors had reviewed several tenancy reform laws, the duchy said in a statement that neither he nor the prince had “involved in drafting a legislation relating to part of the tenancy reform”, including the issue of tenants buying their own accommodation.
In September 1992, lawyers representing the Duchy privately told the Government that they were concerned about the proposals contained in a new Tenancy Bill and argued that Newton St Loe tenants should be denied the right to buy their house.
David Landale, Secretary to the Duchy, said the village – one of the Duchy’s principal properties – was “particularly loved and appreciated by His Royal Highness because of its well-balanced mix of farmhouses and woodland”.
On September 30, a Whitehall official, JE Roberts, warned ministers that ‘the difficulty is that the Prince of Wales has a strong personal interest in the development of this village’, adding that Charles saw ‘no reason why he should now relinquish control. It has been made clear to me that if the government wishes to move forward on this matter, the prince would like to discuss it at the highest level.
Roberts stressed: “The Prince of Wales will probably return to Newton St Loe. Ministers will then have to decide whether it is worth fighting him on the issue.
Sir George Young, then Housing Minister, and another minister, Tony Baldry, felt there was no justification for preventing tenants in Newton St Loe from buying their homes when others around the country had this right, according to a letter. It was feared that this would set a precedent for other large landowners.
In an Oct. 9 memo, Roberts noted, “No special case can be made beyond the fact that the prince has taken a special interest.” He warned that the ministers’ most important aim was to ‘ensure that the consent of the Queen and Prince of Wales to the Bill is obtained… their consent is required before the Bill can be present”.
“Ultimately, I suppose the will of ministers may prevail over that of the monarchy, but a constitutional crisis would add an extra dimension of controversy to the bill that would be best avoided,” he wrote..
Roberts warned ministers had to choose between caving in to the prince or standing firm and “seeking some mechanism to break the impasse”. Unfortunately, I am not aware that our constitution has provided for such a mechanism! »
On October 22, Roberts advised: “On the basis that it is important to avoid a major row with the Prince of Wales…it is appropriate to leave things alone…It is open to the Minister to fight if he wishes, recognizing that this is likely to have costs on both sides.
However, Baldry replied, “We’ve probably gone as far as we can with this…we should leave the matter in abeyance.” Young agreed, “I could live with that – reluctantly.” On the same day, the prince gave his consent to the bill.
The special exemption prohibiting Newton St Loe tenants from buying their homes was not made public until subsequent tenancy law was enacted in 2002.
A Duchy spokesman said: ‘The Duchy of Cornwall Estate is exempt from the Lease Reform Legislation but has agreed to act as if bound except for a very small number specifically identified areas, including Newton St Loe. As you can imagine, we are not discussing individual leases.
Concretely, only a small number of Newton St Loe tenants are affected by the ban. But they say they suffered bitter financial hardship due to the prince’s special rights. One, Jane Giddins, said she and her husband could not borrow against their house to pay for social care themselves in the future. She added that the value of the 99-year lease on their home – their main asset – was steadily decreasing as it neared its end.
“It’s total and feudal injustice,” Giddins said. “Because my full ownership belongs to someone who is immensely wealthy and powerful, I am not protected by the law that applies to everyone in this country. There is nothing I can do about it.
She said that when she and her husband took up the lease in 1996, the Duchy told them about the ban on buying it – but she could not have known the prince had been pushing for the village to be free of lease reform.
“I felt it was so grossly anachronistic and grossly unfair that by the time I needed to fix it the law would have been changed. And I had no idea the Duchy would be able to prevent the law from being put in order.