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08th Feb 2021

The Queen lobbied government to change law to hide “embarrassing” private wealth

Documents discovered by the Guardian reveal Queen Elizabeth lobbied the government to change a law in order to hide "embarrassing" levels of personal wealth

One rule for them.

Queen Elizabeth II lobbied the government to change a law in order to hide the true extent of her personal wealth, documents obtained by the Guardian have revealed.

The bill had sought to prevent investors from subtly acquiring huge stakes in listed companies through other shell companies. It would grant directors the right to demand any nominees owning shares in their company reveal their clients’ identities.

Memos from the national archives reveal that in 1973, Queen Elizabeth’s personal lawyer pressured government ministers to alter a law so her shareholdings would not be disclosed to the public.

The government then inserted a secrecy clause into the legislation, exempting companies used by heads of state from the transparency measures.

You can view the documents here.

Consequently, the true extent of her personal wealth is unknown, but estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

The monarch is involved in law making in the United Kingdom, but usually as a formality, when the Queen approves a bill becoming law, known as royal assent.

But when a piece of legislation could affect the private interests of the royal family, ministers are obliged to seek the Queen’s explicit consent to pass the law.

Many describe this as a harmless gesture, but the uncovered documents have revealed that the Queen has used it in order to lobby the government into protecting the royal family’s interests.

The Guardian quote a civil servant called CM Drukker as saying he had spoken to the Queen’s lawyer, Michael Farrer, and that Farrer’s clients were “quite 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, but more basically because disclosure to any person would be embarrassing,” Drukker addd.

Another civil servant, CW Roberts, wrote in a 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 company’s register) and thus the subject of possible controversy.”

“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.”

Then trade secretary, Geoffrey Howe, proposed the government insert a clause granting themselves the power to exempt any company of their choosing from the new law.

“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.

Though it was clear the main beneficiary of this clause would be Queen Elizabeth II.