The Prince of Wales has been routinely receiving secret cabinet papers for over ten years, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
The request, filed by the anti-monarchy group Republic, detailed an arrangement in the Cabinet’s ‘precedent book’, revealing Prince Charles is included on the “standard circulation” list for official government documents and memorandum. The BBC has also learned that Prince William occasionally receives copies of the same documents, as a future heir to the throne. Until now, it was thought that The Queen was the only member of the royal family to see state papers.
The revelation means that Prince Charles has regular access to the government’s legislative plans in their early stages, as government ministers examine their logistics and many intricacies.
The government only allows a select few to see the information that addresses sensitive topics, such as national security, constitutional reform, economic affairs and Europe. The list of recipients includes “The Queen, the Prince of Wales, all members of the Cabinet, any other Ministers in charge of Department (or to be treated as in charge of Departments) the Attorney General and the Chief Whip.” Kept under strict security measures in the Cabinet Office, the government has fought the release of the information for three years.
The new revelations are likely to increase pressure on the Prince, who has previously been criticised for his correspondence with ministers over political issues. In June, the government was ordered by the Supreme Court to release a number of letters between Charles and government ministers after losing another Freedom of Information battle.
The 17 letters included Charles’s communication between 2006 and 2009 with ministers in four departments, including architecture, rural affairs and health. On that occasion, Clarence House said the letters showed “the range of The Prince of Wales’ concerns and interests for this country and the wider world,” adding that he was “trying to find practical ways to address the issues.”
On Prince Charles’s access, 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.”
There is no official constitutional role for Charles, as heir to the throne – a point likely to be raised in discussions surrounding his receipt of the documents – although he frequently supports The Queen in her role and has carved his own path as a charitable ambassador.
In recent years, the Prince has begun to take on more duties and responsibilities on behalf of his mother, who will turn 90 next year. Her Majesty still carries out a large number of engagements each year but is reducing her workload slightly especially where overseas travel is concerned. Her most recent trip, to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta, has been touted as potentially one of the last times the monarch will travel abroad.
Since her accession, The Queen has been privy to state papers – each day, delivered to her, wherever she is in the world in the famous red boxes. She has seen some of the UK’s most divisive legalisation, including discussions about the 1956 Suez crisis, the Falklands War (in which her son Andrew fought) and the more recent Iraq conflict.
Both her, and Prince Charles as heir, are consulted on bills before receiving royal assent into law and are subject to veto. In one instance the Queen completely vetoed a private member’s bill in 1999. The Military Actions Against Iraq Bill was intended to move the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.
A number of MPs have called for a parliamentary investigation, in response to the latest news into royal access, although opinion is split on whether Charles’s access attributes to lobbying or whether it is instead because of the Prince’s conduct and passion on the topics.
The news comes after he spoke out against climate change and related issues at a conference in Paris last month, urging world leaders to do all they could to reach an agreement to help preserve the natural environment. Ahead of his keynote speech, he also spoke with Sky News to highlight the planet’s plight.
It is also likely to add to the argument to keep the Freedom of Information Act in its current form, as pressure mounts on ministers to abandon plans to introduce fees for requests and tighten up access to certain government departments.