18 December 2015 (TSR) – Prince Charles has been receiving confidential and privileged cabinet papers for decades, giving him access to the inner workings of UK government and market sensitive information and lobbies on them, according to British reports.
The heir to the throne, who has previously been criticised for “meddling” in politics, is sent all cabinet memoranda, alongside the Queen and ministers in charge of departments, including secret proposals for new legislation and other discussion documents that have only been released to the public after 30 years.
The “standard circulation” arrangement, under which records of ministerial deliberations are automatically released to the Prince of Wales as well as the Queen, has been revealed via the Whitehall manual released after a three-year freedom of information battle.
According to The Guardian,
The released chapters state: “The documents of the cabinet and ministerial committees are issued primarily to the sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and ministers … The need for secrecy calls for special care in circulation and handling.”
It adds: “The standard circulation for cabinet memoranda includes the Queen, the Prince of Wales, all members of the cabinet, any other ministers in charge of departments, the attorney general and the chief whip … Ministers of state and junior minister do not normally receive memoranda.”
Cabinet papers contain sensitive draft legislation at the stage when it is shared between secretaries of state for the first time and the papers of cabinet committees, such as those that currently examine issues including constitutional reform, economic affairs, Europe, home affairs, public expenditure and national security.
It follows the disclosure that the heir to the throne has regularly lobbied ministers over pet subjects including homeopathy, architecture, rainforests, rural housing and military spending.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “It has been established practice for many years that the sovereign and the heir to the throne receive the minutes of cabinet meetings. It is important that the head of state and her heir are properly briefed.”
Charles’s “black spider memos”, released to the Guardian this summer after a 10-year freedom of information battle with the government, showed he frequently writes privately to ministers with highly detailed analyses of government policy and lobbies for changes on areas such as homeopathy and defence spending. So far in 2015, he has held at least a dozen private face-to-face meetings with frontline UK politicians, including six cabinet ministers, but what is discussed remains secret.
The Guardian understands that the highly confidential papers are handled by Charles and his principal private secretary, Clive Alderton.
The 27 “Black Spider” memos, dubbed because of the prince’s scrawled handwriting, sent in 2004 and 2005 and released only after the Guardian won its long freedom of information fight with the government, show the Prince of Wales making direct and persistent policy demands to the then prime minister Tony Blair and several key figures in his Labour government.
From Blair, Charles demanded everything from urgent action to improve equipment for troops fighting in Iraq to the availability of alternative herbal medicines in the UK, a pet cause of the prince.
For example, in October 2004 he told the environment minister Elliot Morley he hoped “illegal fishing of the Patagonian toothfish will be high up on your list of priorities because until that trade is stopped, there is little hope for the poor old albatross”.
The letters revealed not only that ministers often responded actively to his suggestions but they appeared to hold his interventions in high regard, The Guardian reported.
Blair replied to him in one letter: “I always value and look forward to your views – but perhaps particularly on agricultural topics.”
“The letters published by the government show the Prince of Wales expressing concern about issues that he has raised in public,” his spokeswoman said. “In all these cases, the Prince of Wales is raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues.”
Paul Flynn, a member of the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee, said Charles’s access to cabinet papers was “a considerable surprise” and called for a parliamentary investigation.
“He is not just a figurehead, he has become a participant in national debate and there is no control over his lobbying,” Flynn said. “This means that he is not only the most influential lobbyist, but the best informed and he is lobbying for his own interests, which are not always benign or sensible.”
“They show he is putting forward a whole variety of views – including many bad science views and others that should have no more weight than the man down the pub,” he said. “We can see his views were given a seriousness and priority they did not deserve,” Flynn said this summer.
Since the beginning of 2010, the prince held 87 meetings with ministers, opposition party leaders and top government officials, new figures release by the campaign group Republic showed. This year he has held meetings with, among others, David Cameron, the Scottish National party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and Alistair Carmichael, then Scotland secretary.
Prince Charles was said to be “disappointed” the principle of confidentiality had not been maintained, and his spokeswoman said publication “can only inhibit his ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings”, The Guardian said.
Aides argue the letters do not show the prince engaging in matters of party political contention, implying they do not breach the principle of political neutrality according to The Guardian report.
The black spider memos which emerged are thought to be growing signs that Prince Charles is planning to rule in a far more outspoken way than the Queen, and likely to be the only glimpse the British public gets of Charles’ correspondence with ministers.
Since 2013, MPs have been examining the heir to the throne’s little-known royal veto over any new laws that affect his private interests.
The royal veto is seen by some constitutional experts as a nuclear deterrent – a red button that is unlikely to be pressed but that may focus ministers’ minds when Charles and other members of the royal family discuss policy matters with them.
The British government are trying to block the release of further information about the extent of the power enjoyed by the Queen and Prince Charles according to The Guardian.
Little known to the world, the royal power has been used to torpedo proposed legislation relating to decisions about the country going to war.
In one instance, the Queen vetoed the military actions against Iraq bill in 1999, a private member’s bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.