A Right Royal Hypocrisy

From the Torygraph:

The Duchess of Cornwall yesterday launched an outspoken defence of freedom of the press in Britain, describing it as a cornerstone of democracy.

In a surprise intervention, set against the backdrop of the debate over privacy and the courts, she said that she “passionately” believed in freedom of expression and insisted that no aspect of society should be free from scrutiny.

She said that the right to “question, debate and criticise” everything should be a matter of national pride.

Everything? I don’t think so

Amendments outlined in Schedule 7, Section 46 of the Act strengthened the Royal Family and Royal Household’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Bill got Royal Assent as well, on 8 April 2010.

But full FoI exemption for the Royal Family was sealed by the current government. On 16 January 2011, just a week after the Ministry of Justice trumpeted to extend the scope of FoI for increased transparency of public affairs, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced his commencement order to bring Royal Family exemption into full force:

“The changes provide an absolute instead of a qualified exemption for information relating to communications with the sovereign, heir to the throne or second in line to the throne or those acting on their behalf.

“The exemption for other members of the royal family and members of the royal household remains qualified. The lifespan of the exemption changes from 30 to 20 years or the lifetime of the relevant member of the royal family plus five years, whichever is longer.

“This amendment to the FoI Act is necessary to protect the long-standing conventions surrounding the monarchy and its records, for example the sovereign’s right and duty to counsel, encourage and warn her Government, as well as the heir to the throne’s right to be instructed in the business of Government in preparation for their future role as monarch.”

Whereas there was previously an exemption from the exemption, Freedom of Information enquiries about the Royal Family are no longer subject to a public interest test. There is no way to hold them under account under FoI.

The issue here is not that of communications between the monarchy and the government on legitimate matters of state but that of the current heir to the throne’s penchant for lobbying ministers on matters of public policy in which he has a private and wholly personal interest:

“This is not simply about the royal household’s use of public funds – it is a serious issue of accountability and transparency that goes to the heart of government.  It is well documented, and admitted by Clarence House, that the Prince of Wales routinely lobbies government ministers on a wide range of controversial and deeply political matters such as the environment, education and health.

So, while the missus is talking up her personal support for press freedom, her husband has a free pass which permits him to interfere in with everything from commercial developments to NHS policy without any possibility of his conduct being subjected to open public scrutiny.