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Royal Family granted new right of secrecy
Special exemptions to be written into Freedom of Information Act
The Royal Family is to be granted absolute protection from public scrutiny in a controversial legal reform designed to draw a veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William.
Letters, emails and documents relating to the monarch, her heir and the second in line to the throne will no longer be disclosed even if they are in the public interest.
Sweeping changes to the Freedom of Information Act will reverse advances which had briefly shone a light on the royal finances – including an attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund to heat Buckingham Palace – and which had threatened to force the disclosure of the Prince of Wales’s prolific correspondence with ministers.
Lobbying and correspondence from junior staff working for the Royal Household and Prince Charles will now be held back from disclosure. Buckingham Palace confirmed that it had consulted with the Coalition Government over the change in the law. The Government buried the plan for “added protection” for the Royal Family in the small print of plans called “opening up public bodies to public scrutiny”.
Maurice Frankel, head of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said that since the change referred to communications written on behalf of the Queen and Prince Charles it might be possible for “park keepers working in the royal parks” to be spared public scrutiny of their letters written to local authorities.
The decision to push through the changes also raises questions about the sincerity of the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to government transparency. In opposition, senior Liberal Democrats frequently lined up to champion the Freedom of Information Act after it came into force in 2005.
Ian Davidson, a former member of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), told The Independent: “I’m astonished that the Government should find time to seek to cover up royal finances. When I was on the PAC what we wanted was more disclosure not less.
“Every time we examined royal finances we found extravagance and indulgence as well as abuse of expenses by junior royals.
“Everywhere we looked, there were savings to be made for the Government. This sends the wrong message about public disclosure and accountability.”
Paul Flynn, another member of the committee, described the special protection for the Royals as “indefensible”. He said: “I don’t think it serves the interests of the public or the Royal Family very well.”
Mr Frankel said he believed that Prince Charles was the driving force behind the new law.
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