Prince Charles must be as accountable as everyone else
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Sep 18, 2012
A freedom of information tribunal has ruled that the government must disclose letters from Prince Charles to ministers. The relationship between the heir to the throne and government has remained secret until now, with occasional leaked snippets revealing the heir to possess a degree of lobbying power not enjoyed by the rest of us.
One statement reveals the heir’s correspondence was treated “with the greatest reverence” and sent “to the top of the pile” when he lobbied on issues such as planning applications and health issues, including promoting alternative medicine and agricultural issues, according to another statement. Some of the heir’s lobbying may be related to his private interests - his brand Duchy Originals sells alternative remedies and “sustainable” food.
The disclosure of these documents is welcome, as transparency surrounding who is lobbying whom is an essential part of a functional democratic system. However, this might be the last time we see this sort of openness: due to pressure from the Royal Family, ministers added an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act last year which means correspondence from Prince Charles cannot be made public for 20 years.
Defenders of the secrecy surrounding the prince’s correspondence to ministers justify it by saying that it is part of his preparation for being king and that he is being educated in the business of government. The tribunal’s ruling, though, suggests that lobbying should not be protected under this convention, so it is unclear why the ban on publication has been enshrined in amendments to the Freedom of Information Act.
Once again, we see an example of the secretive nature of lobbying which ministers are continuing to protect. In order to scrutinise who is exerting undue influence, we must have transparency and fairness surrounding lobbying, from peasant to king.
We’ve written to new lobbying minister Chloe Smith demanding a robust register of lobbyists that is the best it can be. Will you co-sign our letter?