Revealed: Queen lobbied for change in law to hide her private wealth
Elizabeth’s private lawyer put pressure on Edward Heaths ministers to alter a law that would have revealed her shareholdings to the public, government memos show. Composite: Guardian Design Team
Monarch dispatched private solicitor to secure exemption from transparency law
The Queen successfully lobbied the government to change a draft law in order to conceal her embarrassing private wealth from the public, according to documents discovered by the Guardian.
A series of government memos unearthed in the National Archives reveal that Elizabeth Windsors private lawyer put pressure on ministers to alter proposed legislation to prevent her shareholdings from being disclosed to the public.
Following the Queens intervention, the government inserted a clause into the law granting itself the power to exempt companies used by heads of state from new transparency measures.
The arrangement, which was concocted in the 1970s, was used in effect to create a state-backed shell corporation which is understood to have placed a veil of secrecy over the Queens private shareholdings and investments until at least 2011.
The true scale of her wealth has never been disclosed, though it has been estimated to run into the hundreds of millions of pounds.
Evidence of the monarchs lobbying of ministers was uncovered by a Guardian investigation into the royal family’s use of an arcane parliamentary procedure, known as Queens consent, to secretly influence the formation of British laws.
Unlike the better-known procedure of royal assent, a formality that marks the moment when a bill becomes law, Queens consent must be sought before legislation can be approved by parliament.
It requires ministers to alert the Queen when legislation might affect either the royal prerogative or the private interests of the crown.
The website of the royal family describes it as a long established convention and constitutional scholars have tended to regard consent as an opaque but harmless example of the pageantry that surrounds the monarchy.
But documents unearthed in the National Archives, which the Guardian is publishing this week, suggest that the consent process, which gives the Queen and her lawyers advance sight of bills coming into parliament, has enabled her to secretly lobby for legislative changes.
Thomas Adams, a specialist in constitutional law at Oxford University who reviewed the new documents, said they revealed the kind of influence over legislation that lobbyists would only dream of. The mere existence of the consent procedure, he said, appeared to have given the monarch substantial influence over draft laws that could affect her.
Disclosure would be embarrassing
The papers reveal that in November 1973 the Queen feared that a proposed bill to bring transparency to company shareholdings could enable the public to scrutinise her finances. As a result she dispatched her private lawyer to press the government to make changes.
Matthew Farrer, then a partner at the prestigious law firm Farrer & Co, visited civil servants at the then Department of Trade and Industry to discuss the proposed transparency measures in the companies bill, which had been drafted by Edward Heaths government.
The bill sought to prevent investors from secretly building up significant stakes in listed companies by acquiring their shares through front companies or nominees. It would therefore include a clause granting directors the right to demand that any nominees owning their companys shares reveal, when asked, the identities of their clients.
Three crucial pages of correspondence between civil servants at the trade department reveal how, at that meeting, Farrer relayed the Queens objection that the law would reveal her private investments in listed companies, as well as their value. He proposed that the monarch be exempted.
I have spoken to Mr Farrer, a civil servant called CM Drukker wrote on 9 November. As I had recalled he or rather, I think, his clients are quite as concerned over the risk of disclosure to directors of a company as to shareholders and the general public.
He justifies this not only because of the risk of inadvertent or indiscreet leaking to other people, Drukker continued, but more basically because disclosure to any person would be embarrassing.
After being informed that exempting only the crown from the legislation would mean it was obvious any shareholdings so anonymised were the Queens property, Farrer, the correspondence states, took fright somewhat, emphasised that the problem was taken very seriously and suggested somewhat tentatively that we had put them into this quandary and must therefore find a way out.
Drukker continued: He did not like any suggestions that holdings were not these days so embarrassing, given the wide knowledge of, for example, landed property held. Nor did he see that the problem might be resolved by any avoidance of holdings in particular companies. It was the knowledge per se that was objectionable.
After being informed by Farrer that he must now seek instruction from his client, Drukker advised a colleague: I think we must now do what you suggested we should eventually do warn ministers.
Three days later, another civil servant, CW Roberts, summarised the problem in a second memo.
Mr Farrer was not only concerned that information about shares held for the Queen, and transactions in them, could become public knowledge (since it would appear on the companys register) and thus the subject of possible controversy, Roberts wrote.
He regards any disclosure of beneficial ownership of shares by the crown, even if restricted to the directors of the company, as potentially embarrassing, because of the risk of leaks.
He continued: Mr Farrer has accepted an invitation to go into the matter with us, but has said that he will not be able to do so for a few days, until he has taken instructions from his principals.
By the following month the Heath government had developed an ingenious proposal through which the Queens dilemma might be resolved.
With the help of the Bank of England, my department have evolved the following solutions, which will appear in the bill, wrote the Conservative trade minister Geoffrey Howe to a fellow minister.
Howe proposed that the government would insert a new clause into the bill granting the government the power to exempt certain companies from the requirement to declare the identities of their shareholders.
Officially, the change would be for the benefit of a variety of wealthy investors. Such a class could be generally defined to cover, say, heads of state, governments, central monetary authorities, investment boards and international bodies formed by governments, Howe continued.
In practice, however, the Queen was plainly the intended beneficiary of the arrangement. The government intended to create a shell company through which a range of these investors could hold shares. It meant that any curious member of the public would be unable to pinpoint which of the shares owned by the company were held on behalf of the monarch.
My department have discussed this solution with the legal advisers to the Queen, Howe noted. While they cannot of course commit themselves to using the suggested new facility, they accept that it is a perfectly reasonable solution to the problem which they face, and that they could not ask us to do more. I am therefore arranging that the necessary provisions should appear in the bill.
It would be three years before the bill and its secrecy clause would come into law. In February 1974 Heath called a general election, resulting in all legislation that was going through parliament being thrown out.
However, the proposal was resuscitated by the subsequent Labour government under Harold Wilson and became law in 1976, with much of the original bill simply copied into the second edition.
The exemption was almost immediately granted to a newly formed company called Bank of England Nominees Limited, operated by senior individuals at the Bank of England, which has previously been identified as a possible vehicle through which the Queen held shares.
Shares believed to be owned by the Queen were transferred to the company in April 1977, according to a 1989 book by the journalist Andrew Morton.
The exemption is believed to have helped conceal the Queens private fortune until at least 2011, when the government disclosed that Bank of England Nominees was no longer covered by it.
Four years ago, the company was closed down. Precisely what happened to the shares it held on behalf of others is not clear. As a dormant company, it never filed public accounts itemising its activities.
A possible landmine
The use of Queens consent is normally recorded in Hansard, the official record of parliamentary debates, before a bills third reading. However, no notification of consent for the 1976 bill appears in the record, possibly because it was only sought for the 1973 version that never made it to third reading.
Howe, who died in 2015, appears to have disclosed the role of Queens consent which is invoked when ministers believe a draft law might affect the royal prerogative or the private interests of the crown during a parliamentary debate in 1975 in a previously unnoticed speech.
In relation to that draft legislation, as to any other, the advisers of the Queen, as they do as a matter of routine, examined the bill to see whether it contained, inadvertently or otherwise, any curtailment of the royal prerogative, Howe said.
Howe had been prompted to speak in the parliamentary debate during a row caused by the leak of high-level Whitehall papers to the Morning Star newspaper. The leak revealed the governments intention to exempt the Windsor wealth from the companies bill.
It was a major scoop for the communist newspaper, but the leaked papers did not establish whether the Queen had lobbied the government to help conceal her wealth.
At the time, the Financial Times remarked that a possible landmine for the Conservatives would be if Buckingham Palace in 1973 had taken the initiative in suggesting that disclosure of the Queens shareholdings should be excluded from the bill.
The newly discovered papers reveal exactly that. At the very least, it seems clear that representations on the part of the crown were material in altering the shape of the legislation, Adams said.
When contacted by the Guardian, Buckingham Palace did not answer any questions about the Queens lobbying to alter the companies bill, or whether she had used the consent procedure to put pressure on the government.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Queen said: Queens consent is a parliamentary process, with the role of sovereign purely formal. Consent is always granted by the monarch where requested by government.
Whether Queen’s consent is required is decided by parliament, independently from the royal household, in matters that would affect crown interests, including personal property and personal interests of the monarch, she said.
If consent is required, draft legislation is, by convention, put to the sovereign to grant solely on advice of ministers and as a matter of public record.
So. What Might Be The Extent Of Queen Elizabeth II’s Hidden Wealth….?
Who owns the world? The Queen, the family of the actress Nicole Kidman, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the media tycoon…
When the Queen’s territories are added together, the Russian Federation ceases to be the largest single political entity on earth. Like the Queen’s realms, the Russian Federation is dramatically underpopulated and immensely rich in mineral wealth of all kinds.
Together, the Queen’s realms have a depth of international political defence unlike any other alliance. They are combined together in the Commonwealth, the largest single bloc in the United Nations, the largest single combination of nations outside the UN, and they are all headed by the same diminutive octogenarian. If the Queen could convert her landholdings into cash, she would not only be the richest individual on earth, but also the richest person who has ever lived. Another way she could achieve that, however, is by turning upside down the 13 tax havens of which she is both ruler and owner and shaking the cash out of them.
#1 Queen Elizabeth II – Queen Elizabeth UK
Land: 6.6 billion acres of land worldwide including Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia and a few other spots here and there. Also, the all-important Falkland Islands.
Background: England’s third (and most likely soon to be second) longest serving monarch, Elizabeth II retains royal title over The British Commonwealth and as such manages to keep her face on money throughout the globe.
With her 6.6 billion acres, Elizabeth II is far and away the world’s largest landowner, with the closest runner-up (King Abdullah) holding control over a mere 547 million, or about 12% of the lands owned by Her Majesty, The Queen.
Queen Elizabeth II owns 10,312,500 square miles of the Earths surface surpassing the states of Russia, China, and the U.S.A.
Aren’t they just so deserving?
In fact, the Queen of England is the largest landowner on Earth.
Turns out, the Queen of England (of royal German lineage: Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of the House of Wettin See: German Monarchy planned to imprison Jews into Concentration Camps, confiscate Jewish property in 1926 years before Nazis ) owns what amounts to one sixth of the earths non ocean surface. Which makes her, among other things, the richest person in the world.
In fact, She is the only person on earth who owns whole countries, and who owns countries that are not her own domestic territory.
Interestingly, Queen Elizabeths personal land holdings are presented in somewhat of a diminished fashion in the article where this information is found (see below).
Using the figures provided, if one divides $33,000,000,000,000 (Thirty three TRILLION dollars) the estimated value of her private land holdings according to the article by $5,000 (the estimated value given per acre in the article), one finds the number of acres personally owned by the Queen is not in the millions. Its in the BILLIONS.
Queen Elizabeth II has title to, and is therefore the legal owner of 6,600,000,000 ( SIX BILLION, six hundred million) acres of the Earths surface. Thats 10,312,500 square miles. Quite the little homestead.
Queen Elizabeth II the largest landowner on Earth.
Queen Elizabeth II, head of state of the United Kingdom and of 31 other states and territories, is the legal owner of about 6,600 million acres of land, one sixth of the earths non ocean surface.
She is the only person on earth who owns whole countries, and who owns countries that are not her own domestic territory. This land ownership is separate from her role as head of state and is different from other monarchies where no such claim is made Norway, Belgium, Denmark etc.
The value of her land holding. £17,600,000,000,000 (approx).
This makes her the richest individual on earth. However, there is no way easily to value her real estate. There is no current market in the land of entire countries. At a rough estimate of $5,000 an acre, and based on the sale of Alaska to the USA by the Tsar, and of Louisiana to the USA by France, the Queens land holding is worth a notional $33,000,000,000,000 (Thirty three trillion dollars or about £17,600,000,000,000).
Her holding is based on the laws of the countries she owns and, land title is valid in all the countries she owns. Her main holdings are Canada, the 2nd largest country on earth, with 2,467 million acres, Australia, the 7th largest country on earth with 1,900 million acres, the Papua New Guinea with 114 million acres, New Zealand with 66 million acres and the UK with 60 million acres.
She is the worlds largest landowner by a significant margin. The next largest landowner is the Russian state, with an overall ownership of 4,219 million acres, and a direct ownership comparable with the Queens land holding of 2,447 million acres. The 3rd largest landowner is the Chinese state, which claims all of Chinese land, about 2,365 million acres. The 4th largest landowner on earth is the Federal Government of the United States, which owns about one third of the land of the USA, 760 million acres. The fifth largest landowner on earth is the King of Saudi Arabia with 553 million acres
Largest five personal landowners on Earth
Queen Elizabeth II
6,600 million acres
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
553 million acres
King Bhumibol of Thailand
126 million acres
King Mohammed IV of Morocco
113 million acres
Sultan Quaboos of Oman
76 million acres