Leading article: End this secrecy over royal powers

 

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This has been a great year for the Queen, her popularity at record levels and her place in the nation's affections confirmed and amplified by the success of the Jubilee celebrations and by her role in the London Olympics and Paralympics at whose openings she presided.

But a feeling of goodwill towards a dutiful monarch does not make the institution that she represents exempt from scrutiny and reform, which is why the Information Commissioner has been right to demand clarity from the Cabinet Office about when and why the Queen or the Prince of Wales are still consulted over legislation.

A degree of perspective is needed here. No British monarch has actually vetoed a law since the last of the Stuarts, Queen Anne, blocked the Scottish Militia Bill in 1708. Since the coming of the Hanoverians, the constitutional practice has held that what Parliament votes for, the monarch duly signs into law.

In fact, what is at issue here is not so much the actions of the dispassionate and cautious Queen but those of the impetuous and headstrong Prince, whose many attempts to intervene in public life have sometimes come close to crossing the line of acceptable behaviour in terms of his constitutional position.

Aside from the Prince's interventions on the national stage, as head of the Duchy of Cornwall he has had another means to seek consultation over various issues related to the specific life of the Duchy, such as planning, energy and coastal access.

Some will no doubt think that putting into the public domain the precise details of consultations with the Prince over the salvage of wrecks off the Cornish coast, for example, is not an issue of great political and constitutional importance.

But the principle holds that the actions of the Royal Family should be as transparent as those of other people. For that reason the release by the Cabinet Office of the internal manual on the terms of consultation with the royals by a 25 September deadline should be awaited with interest and if necessary, changes made.

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