TThe queen’s courtiers prohibited “immigrants of color or foreigners” from holding clerical functions in the royal house until at least the late 1960s, according to newly discovered documents that will reignite the debate over the British royal family and race.
The documents also shed light on how Buckingham Palace negotiated controversial clauses, which remain in effect to this day, exempting the queen and her family from laws preventing racial and sexual discrimination.
The documents were discovered in the National Archives as part of The Guardian’s ongoing investigation into the royal family’s use of an arcane parliamentary procedure, known as the Queen’s consent, to secretly influence the content of the laws. British.
They reveal how in 1968, the queen’s chief financial officer informed public officials that “in fact, it was not the practice to appoint immigrants of color or foreigners” to office positions in the royal house, although they were allowed to work as domestic servants.
It is unclear when practice ended. Buckingham Palace declined to answer questions about the ban and when it was revoked. He said his records showed that people of ethnic minority origins were employed in the 1990s. He added that prior to that decade, he did not keep records on the racial backgrounds of employees.
Exemptions from the law
In the 1960s, government ministers tried to introduce laws that would make it illegal to refuse to employ a person on the basis of race or ethnic origin.
The Queen has been personally exempt from those equality laws for more than four decades. The exemption has made it impossible for women or ethnic minority people who work for their home to complain to the courts if they believe they have been discriminated against.
In a statement, Buckingham Palace did not deny that the Queen had been exempted from the laws, adding that it had a separate process for hearing complaints related to discrimination. The palace did not respond when asked what this process consists of.
The exemption from the law took effect in the 1970s, when politicians implemented a series of racial and sexual equality laws to eradicate discrimination.
Official documents reveal how government officials in the 1970s coordinated with Elizabeth Windsor’s advisers on drafting the laws.
The documents are likely to re-focus attention on the royal family’s historical and current relationship to race.
Much of the family’s history is inextricably linked to the British Empire, which subjugated people around the world. Some members of the royal family have also come under fire for their racist comments.
In March, the Duchess of Sussex, the family’s first mongrel member, said she had had suicidal thoughts during her time in the royal family and alleged that a family member had expressed concern about her son’s skin color. .
The accusation forced his brother-in-law, Prince William, to declare that the royal family “was not” racist.
Consent of the queen
Some of the documents discovered by The Guardian relate to the use of Queen’s consent, an obscure parliamentary mechanism through which the monarch grants permission to parliament to debate laws that affect her and her private interests.
Buckingham Palace says the process is a mere formality, despite strong evidence that the queen has repeatedly used power to secretly pressure ministers to amend legislation she doesn’t like.
Newly discovered documents reveal how the queen’s consent procedure was used to secretly influence the formation of the race relations bill.
In 1968, then-Home Secretary James Callaghan and Home Office officials seem to have believed that they should not seek Queen’s consent for parliament to debate the race relations bill until their advisers were satisfied that it could not be applied against him in court.
At the time, Callaghan wanted to expand the UK’s racial discrimination laws, which only prohibited discrimination in public places, to also prevent racism in employment or in services like housing.
A key proposal of the bill was the Race Relations Board, which would act as an ombudsman for complaints of discrimination and could initiate legal proceedings against individuals or companies that maintain racist practices.
‘It is not the practice to name immigrants of color’
In February 1968, a Home Office official, TG Weiler, summarized the progress of discussions with Lord Tryon, the guardian of the private portfolio, who was responsible for managing the Queen’s private finances, and other courtiers.
Tryon, he wrote, had informed them that Buckingham Palace was prepared to comply with the proposed law, but only if it enjoyed exemptions similar to those provided to the diplomatic service, which could turn away job applicants who had resided in the UK. for less than five years. years.
According to Weiler, Tryon considered that the staff of the queen’s house fell into one of three types of functions: “(a) high-level positions, which were not filled with advertising or any open appointment system and which presumably they would be accepted as outside the organization. scope of the bill; b) clerical and clerical positions, for which, in fact, it was not customary to appoint immigrants of color or foreigners; and (c) ordinary domestic positions for which applicants of color were freely considered, but which in any event would be covered by the proposed general exemption for domestic employment ”.
“They were particularly concerned,” Weiler wrote, “that if the proposed legislation applied to the queen’s house, for the first time it would be legally possible to criticize the family. Many people already do, but this has to be accepted and is on a different basis than a legal provision. “
In March, Buckingham Palace was satisfied with the proposed law. An Interior Ministry official noted that the courtiers “agreed that the way was now open for the secretary of state to seek the queen’s consent to place his interest at the disposal of parliament for the purposes of the bill.”
The wording of the documents is highly significant, because it suggests that Callaghan and Home Office officials believed that it might not be possible to obtain the queen’s consent for parliament to debate the racial equality law unless the monarch was assured of her exemption.
As a result of this exemption, the Race Relations Board tasked with investigating racial discrimination would forward any complaints from the Queen’s staff to the Secretary of the Interior rather than to the courts.
In the 1970s, the government enacted three laws to counter racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace. In general, complainants were empowered to take their cases directly to court.
But the royal house staff were specifically prevented from doing so, even though the wording of the ban was vague enough that the public would not have realized that the monarch’s staff were exempt.
One official noted that the exemption in the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act had been “acceptable to the palace, largely because it did not explicitly designate persons employed by Her Majesty in their personal capacity for a special exception” and at the same time removed from its scope.
The exemption was extended to this day when in 2010 the Equality Act replaced the 1976 Race Relations Act, the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, and the 1970 Equal Pay Act. For many years, Critics have regularly pointed out that the royal house employed few black, Asian or ethnic minority people.
In 1990, journalist Andrew Morton reported in the Sunday Times that “a black face has never appeared on the executive echelons of the royal service: the home and the civil servants” and “even among the administrative and domestic staff, there are only a handful of recruits. of ethnic minorities ”.
The following year, royal investigator Philip Hall published a book, Royal Fortune, in which he quoted a source close to the Queen as confirming that there were no non-white courtiers in the highest ranks of the palace.
In 1997 the Palace admitted to the Independent that it was not pursuing an officially recommended policy of monitoring staffing to ensure equal opportunity.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said: “The royal house and the sovereign comply with the provisions of the Equality Act, in principle and in practice. This is reflected in the policies, procedures and practices of diversity, inclusion and dignity at work within the royal household.
“Any complaint that may be made under the law follows a formal process that provides a means to hear and remedy any complaint.” The palace did not respond when asked if the monarch was subject to this law.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism