Campaign group Republic has told the House of Commons Justice Committee's inquiry into freedom of information that the monarchy must be included in the Act. In written evidence that has been published by the committee Republic argued that three key changes were needed:
- The royal household should be defined as a public authority within the Act.
- The absolute exemption on communications from the monarch, the heir and second in line to the throne should be reverted to a qualified exemption (meaning subject to a public interest test).
- The qualified exemption (Section 37) for communications from other members of the royal family or royal household should be removed entirely (so royals are subject to the same rules as all other citizens).
Republic chief executive Graham Smith said today: "It is absurd that as far as the FOI Act is concerned there is no public body at the head of our constitution, the monarchy simply isn't recognised by the Act. This means there is no way ordinary people can demand information about the way our head of state operates." "Clearly the monarchy is a public authority, it holds constitutional powers, it serves a public function in providing a head of state and it is almost entirely publicly funded - yet it is not covered at all by freedom of information rules." "The only way FOI rules can be used in holding to account the royals is by seeking information about dealings they have with government bodies, yet since last year that information is subject to an absolute exemption." "We're saying that there must be a public interest test for all communications between royals and public bodies, and that the exemption should only apply to the head of state and next in line." "There is no case for prince Edward or other minor royals to be given blanket protection from freedom of information requests. Where the head of state is concerned the public interest test must be put back into the Act." "The excuse used by the government for exemption has been twofold: firstly they claim the royal household is not a public authority, which is clearly nonsense. Secondly they argue that disclosure of information would threaten the neutrality of the monarch or next in line, yet neutrality has to be seen and proven, not simply claimed." "In the case of prince Charles that neutrality clearly does not exist, he routinely meddles in politics. Yet the government claims the 'appearance' of impartiality must be maintained through deception and secrecy. That is unacceptable in a democratic society."
Republic's evidence to the committee can be seen at www.republic.org.uk/justice_evidence_2012.pdf
The full published evidence can be read at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmjust/writev/foi/foi.pdf