Revealed: Charles has access to Cabinet papers
After a three year fight with the government Republic has secured the release of a document that shows Prince Charles has access to Cabinet papers as a matter of course.
Prince Charles's letters are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to royal secrecy. Charles can write to any MP, minister or government department and voters can never know what he is saying or what impact he has on government decisions.
The government has argued that it is better to maintain secrecy, so we can carry on believing Charles is unbiased, rather than end the secrecy and show that he is not.
Time to end royal secrecy
The monarchy is one of Britain’s most secretive institutions. A law introduced in 2010 granted the royal household a total exemption from freedom of information (FOI) rules so it can lobby ministers in secret and spend public money without proper scrutiny. The royals also demand enhanced personal privacy and the monarchy allows politicians to make laws on the sly, through the out-of-date committee called the Privy Council.
MPs, councillors, civil servants, BBC journalists, police officers - even teachers and nurses - are all subject to FOI. Why not the royals?
Why are royals able to demand greater privacy than any other public figure or celebrity?
Why are we still allowing the government to make new laws without proper scrutiny and public debate?
Republic is aiming to raise thousands of pounds to help press MPs to end royal secrecy after the election.
The monarchy has secret access to those in power
Republic's royal secrets campaign aims to change this - to get the Freedom of Information Act to include the monarchy, to open up their accounts to proper scrutiny, to reveal the extent of royal lobbying, privilege and influence, challenge royal privacy demands and get all law-making out into the open.
We will be raising a series of secrecy issues over the coming months - ranging from financial practices, the secrecy of royal wills, access to royal archives and the persistent lobbying of government ministers.
We know that the royals use their secrecy for their own personal advantage, whether that's demanding the use of public money or pushing their own political agenda.
Republic also believes that the secrecy is key to their survival - popular support for the monarchy would rapidly decline if voters knew what was going on behind closed doors.
- A change to the freedom of information laws, so that the royals are covered by the rules just like any other public body;
- Full disclosure of lobbying and influence;
- An end to secrecy on tax and public funding;
- All laws to be made in public in line with the rules covering debates in parliament and an end to the Privy Council.
We need to get MPs to act on these demands.
Principles and politics
The extraordinary measures the government has taken to stop you seeing Prince Charles’s letters shows this is not just a matter of principle. The royals are using their secrecy for their own personal advantage, whether that's demanding more public money or pushing a narrow political agenda.
The royal household's FOI exemption stops us from seeing:
- How Prince Charles lobbies government ministers
- How government policy has been changed as a result of the "royal veto"
- How the royal household uses - and misuses - public money
- How the Queen manages property and art that belongs to the nation
- How the activities of the military, police and other public bodies have been influenced by the wishes of the royal family
Actions you can take
- Get involved with Republic's local campaigns. Find out how at republic.org.uk/local.
- Volunteer with Republic's Investigations Team. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
- Write to your MP: use the writetothem.com website to send an email to your MP. Ask them to write to the Justice Secretary and raise your concerns about royal secrecy.
- Share this page on social media: use your favourite social media platform to share republic.org.uk/royalsecrets.
What Republic will be doing
Getting the law changed will take time. Raising awareness is the first step and that's something we can do right now, with your help. We will be:
- Sending a Royal Secrets information pack to every MP, including a new Royal Secrets Report that will put forward the case for reform;
- Printing thousands of leaflets for our activists and local campaigners to distribute around the country;
- Putting together a local campaigns pack of information and resources, including banners, badges, briefings on the issues and other campaign material;
- Running activist training to empower more people to raise awareness and spread the word;
- Investing in Republic's Investigations Team, volunteers who work tirelessly to uncover royal secrets and put together our case for an end to royal secrecy;
- Creating great digital and online content for social media that will take the campaign to hundreds of thousands of people around the UK and the world;
- Doing more work to get the issue into the mainstream media.
We will also be investing in more work to build long-term political support. Find out more about our Republic in Parliament project.
Find out more
Charles and his financial interests
MPs are required to declare certain financial interests that might influence their decisions or votes in the House of Commons. This might include, for example, ownership of shares in a company that will be affected by a new law.
Prince Charles has direct access to ministers and has the freedom to lobby them on any issue he chooses in complete secrecy. He also speaks out on a number of issues and often visits businesses to promote their work. It is vital that he declares his financial interests too, so that the public know he is not personally profiting from his lobbying or public engagements.
At the moment there is no requirement for Charles to declare his interests, yet he continues to be in a position of considerable public and political influence. This is another example of royal secrecy that begs the question: what do they have to hide?
The Guardian case
The Guardian has been fighting the government since 2006 for the disclosure of letters sent to ministers by Prince Charles.
In 2012 the Attorney General stopped the release of letters on the grounds that they would damage Prince Charles's political neutrality.
In June 2014 former ministers revealed that they had been actively lobbied by Prince Charles to change government policy.
Republic has been campaigning for an end to royal secrecy and will continue to press its message through the media.
Republic has said:
"Dominic Grieve's argument is that it is better to pretend Charles is impartial than to prove he is not. Charles is required to stay out of politics, if he is lobbying politicians then the public have a right to know."
"Sadly all parties conspired in 2010 to change the law under which the Guardian made the original request. If a similar freedom of information request were made now it would fall at the first hurdle thanks to an absolute bar on the release of royal letters."
"Royals now have the complete freedom to lobby the government in secret and on whatever issue they choose. This has nothing to do with their royal duties and everything to do with the Windsor family protecting their own interests and pursuing their own agendas."
The Freedom of Information Act names a long list of public authorities that are required by law to release information to the public upon request. A number of exemptions to this law exist to protect privacy and other sensitive material (particularly relating to national security).
The Freedom of Information Act makes no mention of the monarchy in its list of public authorities, so the royal household has no obligations under these rules.
The list of exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act does specify that communications between a public authority and the royals are exempt from disclosure. In some cases if it can be proven there is a public interest in disclosure this exemption can be over-ruled. In the case of senior royals there is no public interest test, the ban on disclosure is absolute.
Royal accounts are published each year, yet many details, particularly covering travel expenses, are left out of official reports.