Buckingham Palace banned ‘coloured immigrants’ from clerical jobs in 1960s, papers reveal (Report)

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Buckingham Palace banned ‘coloured immigrants’ from clerical jobs in 1960s, papers reveal (Report)
Buckingham Palace banned ‘coloured immigrants’ from clerical jobs in 1960s, papers reveal (Report)

The Queen’s courtiers banned “coloured immigrants or foreigners” from serving in clerical roles in the royal household 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 – that remain in place to this day – exempting the Queen and her household from laws that prevent race and sex discrimination.

The papers were discovered at the National Archives as part of the Guardian’s ongoing investigation into the royal family’s use of an arcane parliamentary procedure, known as Queen’s consent, to secretly influence the content of British laws.

They reveal how in 1968, the Queen’s chief financial manager informed civil servants that “it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint coloured immigrants or foreigners” to clerical roles in the royal household, although they were permitted to work as domestic servants.

It is unclear when the practice ended. Buckingham Palace refused to answer questions about the ban and when it was revoked. It said its records showed people from ethnic minority backgrounds being employed in the 1990s. It added that before that decade, it did not keep records on the racial backgrounds of employees.

Exemptions from the law

In the 1960s government ministers sought to introduce laws that would make it illegal to refuse to employ an individual on the grounds of their race or ethnicity.

The Queen has remained personally exempted from those equality laws for more than four decades. The exemption has made it impossible for women or people from ethnic minorities working for her household to complain to the courts if they believe they have been discriminated against.

In a statement, Buckingham Palace did not dispute 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 was brought into force in the 1970s, when politicians implemented a series of racial and sexual equality laws to eradicate discrimination.

The official documents reveal how government officials in the 1970s coordinated with Elizabeth Windsor’s advisers on the wording of the laws.

The documents are likely to refocus attention on the royal family’s historical and current relationship with race.

Much of the family’s history is inextricably linked with the British empire, which subjugated people around the world. Some members of the royal family have also been criticised for their racist comments.

In March the Duchess of Sussex, the family’s first mixed-race member, said she had had suicidal thoughts during her time in the royal family, and alleged that a member of the family had expressed concern about her child’s skin colour.

The allegation compelled her brother-in-law, Prince William, to declare that the royal family was “very much not” racist.

Queen’s consent

Some of the documents uncovered by the Guardian relate to the use of Queen’s consent, an obscure parliamentary mechanism through which the monarch grants parliament permission to debate laws that affect her and her private interests.

Buckingham Palace says the process is a mere formality, despite compelling evidence that the Queen has repeatedly used the power to secretly lobby ministers to amend legislation she does not like.

The newly discovered documents reveal how the Queen’s consent procedure was used to secretly influence the formation of the draft race relations legislation.

In 1968, the then home secretary, James Callaghan, and civil servants at the Home Office appear to have believed that they should not request Queen’s consent for parliament to debate the race relations bill until her advisers were satisfied it could not be enforced against her in the courts.

At the time, Callaghan wanted to expand the UK’s racial discrimination laws, which only prohibited discrimination in public places, so that they also prevented racism in employment or services such as housing.

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