In the Commonwealth realms, Queen's Consent (or King's Consent when the monarch is male, or Royal Consent in Canada) is required for the legislature to be able to debate a bill affecting the prerogatives or the interests (hereditary revenues, personal property, or other interests) of the relevant crown. In the United Kingdom, this extends to matters affecting the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall; for the latter, Prince's Consent must also be obtained. The Scottish Parliament adheres to the same requirement of consent.
Bills affecting the royal prerogative and the personal property and "personal interests" of the monarch require Queen's Consent.
In Canada, no act of parliament binds the monarch or their rights unless the act states that it does so. Queen's Consent (or Royal Consent) is typically granted by the governor general on behalf of the sovereign and specially communicated to parliament. Typically, though, it is expressed by a minister of the Canadian Crown.
In the United Kingdom, as well as bills that affect the prerogative, bills affecting the hereditary revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall require Queen's Consent. Bills affecting the latter also require Prince's Consent from the Prince of Wales in his capacity as Duke of Cornwall. In certain circumstances, such as for the House of Lords Act 1999, the consent of the Prince of Wales, in his capacity as Earl of Chester or Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, must also be obtained where a bill affects his interests. In 1993, both Queen's Consent and Prince's Consent were required in respect of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 that enabled the ordination of women in the Church of England.
The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has produced guidance on the need for Queen's or Prince's Consent and the procedures associated with them.
Effect on parliamentary proceedings
Consent is usually signified in one (in unicameral legislatures) or both houses (in bicameral legislatures) of parliament, at either the second or third reading, by a privy counsellor and is recorded in Hansard. Where proposed legislation which might affect the royal prerogative or the private interests of the crown is sponsored by the cabinet (as is the case for most bills considered by parliament), the department sponsoring the bill must write to the Palace giving as much time as possible, but never less than 14 days before the bill is introduced to parliament.:6.1 In the Scottish parliament, consent is signified by a member of the Scottish government. In the Canadian parliament, Royal Consent can be signified in only one legislative chamber.
If consent is required but not signified, a bill may make no further progress through parliament. If a bill is mistakenly allowed to progress even though the required consent was not signified and the error is discovered before royal assent has been given, the proceedings may later be declared void. Where a bill requires the consent of the Prince and Steward of Scotland or the Duke of Rothesay, the Scottish parliament cannot debate any question whether the bill be passed or approved unless such consent to those provisions has been signified by a member of the Scottish executive. Once a bill has passed parliament and received Royal Assent, it is regarded as legally valid by the courts, regardless of any deficiency in parliamentary procedure, in accordance with the usual principles of parliamentary privilege.
Consent granted or withheld on advice of the cabinet
If Queen's Consent is withheld, it is, according to the tenets of constitutional monarchy and responsible government, done on the advice of ministers of the Crown. A spokesman for the Queen stated in 2021, following criticism regarding Queen Elizabeth II in 1973 discussing proposed legislation with government when notified according to 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."
Similarly, the Prince of Wales grants and withholds the Prince's Consent on the advice of the sovereign's British ministers, as the Duchy of Cornwall is within British jurisdiction. No bill affecting the Duchy of Cornwall has been refused consent by either the sovereign or the Duke of Cornwall. Each granting of consent by the Prince of Wales is a "matter of public record".
In 1999, Queen Elizabeth II, acting on the advice of her British Cabinet, refused to signify her consent to the Parliament of the United Kingdom debating the Military Action Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill, which sought to transfer from the sovereign to parliament the power to authorize military strikes against Iraq. This prevented the bill from being debated. In 1988, the Palace of Westminster (Removal of Crown Immunity) Bill could not be debated in the British parliament because Queen's Consent was withheld, as with the Reform of the House of Lords Bill in 1990.
Vetting of bills under consent procedure
While the website of the royal family describes consent as "a long established convention", and it has been seen as harmless pageantry, The Guardian newspaper in 2021 found memos in the National Archives revealing that the advance notice of forthcoming bills allows the monarchy to secretly lobby for legislative changes without actual consent being invoked. The documents were reviewed by Thomas Adams, a specialist in constitutional law at Oxford University, who said they revealed "the kind of influence over legislation that lobbyists would only dream of", adding that the existence of the consent procedure appeared to have given the monarch "substantial influence" over draft laws that could affect her. As of 2021 over 1,000 bills had been vetted secretly by Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Charles before they were put before Parliament.
The Palace is known to have requested changes to draft legislation in some cases; it is not known how many. As an example, in 1973 when a companies bill incorporating transparency measures was to be introduced, after receiving advance notice as required by the consent procedure the Queen's lawyer and the trade department agreed an exception for heads of state. This allowed the Queen to avoid the embarrassment of disclosure of beneficial ownership of shares by the Crown until at least 2011. Consent was not required for the bill as eventually introduced.
Relationship to royal assent
Queen's Consent and Prince's Consent are distinct from royal assent. Royal assent is granted after a bill has passed through parliament, whereas Queen's Consent and Prince's Consent, where required, are granted before parliament has debated or voted to pass a bill. Royal assent is also required for all legislation, whereas Queen's Consent and Prince's Consent are only required for legislation affecting specific topics. Royal assent forms part of the (unwritten) constitution and lies under the royal prerogative, while Queen's Consent and Prince's Consent are internal parliamentary rules of procedure that could, in principle, be dispensed with by parliament. Erskine May wrote:
These several forms of communication are recognised as constitutional declarations of the Crown, suggested by the advice of its responsible ministers, by whom they are announced to Parliament, in accordance with established usage. They cannot be misconstrued into any interference with the proceedings of Parliament, as some of them are rendered necessary by resolutions of the House of Commons, and all are founded upon parliamentary usage, which both houses have agreed to observe. This usage is not binding upon Parliament; but if, without the consent of the Crown, previously signified, Parliament should dispose of the interests or affect the prerogative of the Crown, the Crown could still protect itself, in a constitutional manner, by the refusal of the royal assent to the bill. And it is one of the advantages of this usage, that it obviates the necessity of resorting to the exercise of that prerogative.
- Elizabeth II (2004), "Speaker's Ruling", Journals of the Senate, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada (15), retrieved 15 October 2015
- Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (September 2018). "Queen's or Prince's Consent" (PDF). UK Government Publishing Service.
This pamphlet is intended for members of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel
- "Rule 9.11 of the Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament" (PDF).
- Elizabeth II (2005), Interpretation Act, 17, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada (published 1 April 2005), archived from the original on 5 July 2009, retrieved 7 August 2009
- Parliament of Canada, Royal Consent Given to Bills, Queen's Printer for Canada, retrieved 15 October 2015
- "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 30 Apr 1996 (pt 1)". publications.parliament.uk.
- Prince's Consent asked on 12 bills, Oxford Times
- "I hope that I need detain the House..." TheyWorkForYou.
- Robert Booth (31 August 2012). "Secret royal veto powers over new laws to be exposed". Retrieved 31 August 2012.
- e.g. Hansard HC Deb 20 July 1949 vol 467 cc1385-6
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 March 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Queen did not block legislation, Buckingham Palace says". BBC News. 8 February 2021.
- "Secret papers show extent of senior royals' veto over bills". the Guardian. 15 January 2013.
- "FAQs | Prince of Wales". www.princeofwales.gov.uk.
- "Iraq attack bill fails". BBC News, 16 April 1999. Retrieved on 12 April 2007.
- "Palace of Westminster (Removal of Crown Immunity) Bill". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 8 July 1998. col. 1370–.
- "Reform of the House of Lords Bill". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 26 January 1990. col. 1241–.
- Evans, Rob (8 February 2021). "Royals vetted more than 1,000 laws via Queen's consent". The Guardian.
- Evans, Rob (7 February 2021). "Revealed: Queen lobbied for change in law to hide her private wealth". The Guardian.
- 3rd ed., p. 353