Documents Reveal British Royalty Secretly Veto Legislation

obama, prince charles may 2011

Photo: The White House via Flickr

Correspondence between the Prince of Wales and a government minister has shone a light for the first time on how the Prince is able to veto legislation.The documents disclose details of the routine practice by which the Prince is consulted on Bills that might affect the Duchy of Cornwall before they reach Parliament.

The papers show that Huw Irranca-Davies, then a Labour minister, wrote to Sir Michael Peat, then the Prince’s private secretary, in November 2008 to consult him on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill.

He draws attention to “those parts of the Bill that we expect would require the Prince’s consent when the Bill is introduced to Parliament in December”, enclosing two copies in its draft form and promising to send a final version.

In the letter, addressed “Dear Private Secretary”, Mr Irranca-Davies sets out over four pages a summary of the provisions and how they will affect the Duchy, the Prince’s private estate.

The minister signs the letter by hand with “my kind regards”. It has been released following a ruling by the Information Commissioner.

Also disclosed was Sir Michael’s response two months later, thanking the minister and informing him: “I can confirm that the Prince of Wales is content with the Bill.”

The reply is revealing because it appears to suggest that the Prince sees his constitutional role as going further than that envisaged by ministers. Releasing the correspondence, a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that while the consent was “expressed to be to the Bill itself”, it in fact relates “only to the aspects of it that affect the interest of the Duchy”.

The spokesman added that Erskine May, the constitutional guide, says that “the Prince’s consent is required for a Bill which affects the rights of the principality of Wales and earldom of Chester, or which makes specific reference to, or special provision for, the Duchy of Cornwall”.

The documents were released following an application by John Kirkhope, a public notary and graduate law student at Plymouth University, after his initial request was turned down by Defra.

The commissioner ruled that other related documents must remain secret but part of the correspondence could be released as it related to the Prince’s role as a landowner rather than as heir to the throne.

Mr Kirkhope said it was clear that there would also be unpublished cases in which the Prince had objected.

He said: “The real issue is about those Acts where there are changes made to the Act as a result of representations made by the Prince.”

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