Prince Charles has regularly received confidential government documents for the past 30 years, a three-year Freedom of Information battle has revealed.
The heir to the throne receives papers from Cabinet and ministerial committees, according to the Cabinet Office’s precedent book, parts of which have been made public.
The information was disclosed to antimonarchy campaign group Republic through a FOI request. Chief executive Graham Smith called on David Cameron to end the practice of sending cabinet documents to Clarence House. The situation was “quite extraordinary and completely unacceptable”, he said.
“Charles has no legitimate need to see cabinet papers,” he said. “His political and private interests and the high degree of secrecy surrounding his lobbying mean there is a real danger this information can be abused without any possibility of accountability.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson 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.”
The access to cabinet papers does not relate solely to Prince Charles: government documents have been made available to the heir to the throne since the 1930s.
Earlier this year, a selection of the prince’s letters to government ministers were published after a decade-long legal fight by the Guardian newspaper.
The “black spider” memos, so-called because of the prince’s distinctive handwriting, involved correspondence with departments including business, health, schools, environment, culture, Northern Ireland and the Cabinet Office.
Their publication provided an unprecedented glimpse into the prince’s views.
The Prince of Wales has become one of the most high-profile targets for FOI campaigners. Their legal battles to find out more about his involvement with the workings of government have become a consideration in an ongoing Whitehall attempt to water down the legislation.
Tony Blair, who introduced FOI as prime minister, later called himself a “naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop” for doing so.
Ministers hoped FOI would make it easier for the public to access information held by the public sector. But it is viewed by some politicians and civil servants as too onerous and costly.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the civil service, has said FOI requests were having “a chilling effect” on the workings of government.
The law makes it harder for ministers to discuss policies, he says.
This summer Downing Street set up a commission to look at reforms.
Measures under consideration include the introduction of fees for FOI requests and making it easier for the authorities to refuse requests on grounds of cost.
But there is also pressure on Downing Street to leave the policy as it is. Sir Jeremy’s predecessor Lord Kerslake said this week that Britain needed more open government and called on the government to shelve the plans to water down the legislation.
“If people are experiencing a chilling effect, it’s largely in their own heads, not the reality,” he told a committee of MPs on Monday.
Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said last month it had “opened up the corridors of power to greater scrutiny and government at all levels is better for it”.
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