by a Newsnet reporter
Following a Freedom of Information Request, the Guardian newspaper has revealed that in the past six years the Westminster government has sought the consent of Prince Charles for 12 bills going through Parliament. The bills are understood to relate to legislation covering diverse matters including the London Olympics, economic development, construction and housing, energy, gambling, regeneration and coroners’ courts. Without the consent of the Prince, the government would have been forced to alter the legislation.
Downing Street and the Prince’s office have refused to say whether any bills were altered as a result of objections from the heir to the throne.
The consent of Prince Charles is required when a bill affects the interests of the Duchy of Cornwall – the multi-million pound estate which provides the heir to the throne with his £18 million a year private income.
This consent is separate from the constitional requirement, the royal assent, which demands the approval of the monarch to sign bills passed by Parliament into law. Aside from this requirement, any bill in Parliament which affects the private interests of the monarch must receive the consent of the Queen. As the Duchy of Cornwall is held by the heir to the monarch, and in theory returns to the monarch should the heir die without issue, any bill which affects the private interests of Prince Charles relating to the Duchy or its income must receive the Prince’s consent.
The Prince enjoys a luxurious lifestyle funded by income from the Duchy, it was revealed in 2010 that he employs a personal staff of 124 at an annual cost of over £6 million, including three spin doctors, 16 gardeners, two butlers, three under-butlers, two valets, eight orderlies and three chauffeurs. Recently the Prince published a book decrying society’s emphasis on material possessions and making a plea to return to a more natural and less complicated way of life.
A spokesperson for the Prince said he would not comment on any correspondence between Charles and the government, saying: “This is not about seeking the personal views of the Prince but rather it is a long-standing convention in relation to the Duchy of Cornwall, which would have applied equally to his predecessors.”
Downing Street said the Prime Minister has no plans to change the law in order to remove the necessity to gain consent from the Prince of Wales. A spokesman for David Cameron’s office refused to confirm whether any planned legislation had been blocked or amended as a result of the Prince’s objections. The Governments cites an exemption to freedom of information laws which allows correspondence between Charles and his aides and government to be kept secret. The veto enjoyed by the Prince has been described by constitutional experts as a royal “nuclear deterrent” on public policy.
Charles has frequently faced criticism over his contacts with government and faced accusations of meddling. In 2009 it was reported that he had written to eight government departments to express his views. The Prince has strong, and often controversial, opinions on a range of issues, most notably alternative medicine, the environment and architecture.
Writing in the Times in 2009, the commentator and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby said: “[Charles] has accumulated a number of certainties about the state of the world and does not relish contradiction.” The same year, a group of leading architects wrote to the Times to complain that that “private comments” and “behind-the-scenes lobbying” by the Prince had counteracted the “open and democratic planning process” in the proposed redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks.
The sovereign and the Prince of Wales are the only members of the royal family whose consent is required for bills that affect their private interests.