Independent: Royal Family feudal elite granted new right of secrecy

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Aug 23 23:22:22 BST 2014

Are they a 'Distraction', or 'Irellevant' Simon?

Britain's feudal elite granted immunity from FOI laws.

Royal Family granted new right of secrecy

Coalition to write special exemptions into Freedom of Information Act

AFFAIRS EDITOR  Saturday 08 January 2011
The Royal Family is to be granted absolute 
protection from public scrutiny in a 
controversial legal reform designed to draw a 
veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, 
Prince Charles and Prince William.
Letters, emails and documents relating to the 
monarch, her heir and the second in line to the 
throne will no longer be disclosed even if they are in the public interest.
Sweeping changes to the Freedom of Information 
Act will reverse advances which had briefly shone 
a light on the royal finances – including an 
attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund 
to heat Buckingham Palace – and which had 
threatened to force the disclosure of the Prince 
of Wales's prolific correspondence with ministers.
Lobbying and correspondence from junior staff 
working for the Royal Household and Prince 
Charles will now be held back from disclosure. 
Buckingham Palace confirmed that it had consulted 
with the Coalition Government over the change in 
the law. The Government buried the plan for 
"added protection" for the Royal Family in the 
small print of plans called "opening up public bodies to public scrutiny".
Maurice Frankel, head of the Campaign for Freedom 
of Information, said that since the change 
referred to communications written on behalf of 
the Queen and Prince Charles it might be possible 
for "park keepers working in the royal parks" to 
be spared public scrutiny of their letters written to local authorities.
The decision to push through the changes also 
raises questions about the sincerity of the 
Liberal Democrats' commitment to government 
transparency. In opposition, senior Liberal 
Democrats frequently lined up to champion the 
Freedom of Information Act after it came into force in 2005.
Ian Davidson, a former member of Parliament's 
Public Accounts Committee (PAC), told The 
Independent: "I'm astonished that the Government 
should find time to seek to cover up royal 
finances. When I was on the PAC what we wanted was more disclosure not less.
"Every time we examined royal finances we found 
extravagance and indulgence as well as abuse of expenses by junior royals.
"Everywhere we looked, there were savings to be 
made for the Government. This sends the wrong 
message about public disclosure and accountability."
Paul Flynn, another member of the committee, 
described the special protection for the Royals 
as "indefensible". He said: "I don't think it 
serves the interests of the public or the Royal Family very well."
Mr Frankel said he believed that Prince Charles 
was the driving force behind the new law.
"The heir to the throne has written letters to 
government departments in an attempt to influence policy," he said.
"He clearly does not want these to get into the public domain."
Later this month, lawyers for the Cabinet Office, 
backed by Prince Charles, will go to court to 
continue to resist Freedom of Information 
requests of ministers to publish letters written 
to them by the Prince of Wales.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said that the 
change to the law was necessary because the 
Freedom of Information Act had failed to protect 
the constitutional position of the monarch and 
the heir to the throne. He explained that the 
sovereign has the right and duty to be consulted, 
to encourage and warn the government, and by 
extension, the heir to the throne had the 
constitutional right and duty to prepare himself for the role of King.
"This constitutional position relies on 
confidentiality, so that all such correspondence 
remains confidential," he said.
But he said that change would also mean that 
correspondence not covered by the absolute 
exemption would be made public 10 years earlier 
than under the current disclosure rules.
The Palace's position was backed by Professor 
Vernon Bogdanor, research professor at King's College London.
He told The Independent: "The essence of 
constitutional monarchy is that the Queen and 
other members of the Royal Family remain 
politically neutral. The Queen meets the Prime 
Minister once a week, when both are in London, to discuss government policy.
"The heir to the throne has the right, and 
perhaps the duty, to question ministers on policy 
so as to prepare himself for the throne. Such 
discussions are only possible if they remain 
confidential. Otherwise the 'neutrality' of the 
Queen and of the Prince of Wales could be undermined.
"When the Queen meets the Prime Minister, no one 
else is present – not even the Queen's Private 
Secretary. For this reason, it is right that the 
Royal Family should be exempt from FOI."
The Government claimed that the thrust of the 
changes announced yesterday would make it "easier 
for people to use FOI to find and use information 
about the public bodies they rely on and their taxes pay for".
The Ministry of Justice intends to increase the 
number of organisations to which FOI requests can 
be made, bringing in bodies such as the 
Association of Chief Police Officers, the 
Financial Services Ombudsman, and the higher 
education admissions body UCAS, and also all 
companies wholly owned by any number of public authorities.

In the public interest? The stories they didn't want us to know

*In 2004 the Queen asked ministers for a poverty 
handout to help heat her palaces but was rebuffed 
because they feared it would be a public 
relations disaster. Royal aides were told that 
the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed 
at families on low incomes and if the money was 
given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing 
associations or hospitals it could lead to 
"adverse publicity" for the Queen and the government.

*A "financial memorandum" formalising the 
relationship between the sovereign and ministers 
set out tough terms on how the Queen can spend 
the £38.2m handed over by Parliament each year to 
pay for her staff and occupied palaces.

*The Queen requested more public money to pay for 
the upkeep of her crumbling palaces while 
allowing minor royals and courtiers to live in rent-free accommodation.

*As early as 2004 Sir Alan Reid, the Keeper of 
the Privy Purse, had unsuccessfully put the case 
to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport 
for a substantial increase in the £15m-a-year 
grant to maintain royal buildings.

*The Palace planned to go ahead with refurbishing 
and renting the apartment of Diana, Princess of 
Wales at Kensington Palace after it had lain empty since her death in 1997.

*A letter exchange revealed a tussle over who has 
control of £2.5m gained from the sale of 
Kensington Palace land. Ministers said it 
belonged to the state, while Buckingham Palace said it belonged to the Queen.

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