Independent: Royal Family feudal elite granted new right of secrecy
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
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
ROBERT VERKAIK ,
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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