The UK government is fighting an information commissioner order requiring the release of secret documents that show how a little known power of royal veto over draft legislation operates.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
The government is fighting an information commissioner order requiring the release of secret documents that show how a little known power of royal veto over draft legislation operates.
The Cabinet Office has launched a legal challenge to a ruling last month which warned that the government could be in contempt of court if it did not publish Whitehall guidance on a process which instructs civil servants to seek the approval of Prince Charles and the Queen over some new laws.
The application of the controversial veto was revealed by the Guardian last year and has been described by constitutional lawyers as “a royal nuclear deterrent”.
Some observers believe the power underpins the influence Prince Charles appears to wield in Whitehall over pet issues ranging from architecture to healthcare.
The latest effort to keep secret the application of the royal veto comes amid claims on Tuesday that the Queen had lobbied a Labour home secretary to secure the arrest of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical Islamist cleric who faces imminent extradition to the US.
The government and royal family are coming under growing pressure to reveal details about their interaction on policies.
Last week three judges in a freedom of information tribunal ordered the government to disclose copies of confidential letters that Charles wrote to ministers – the black spider memos, so-called because of the prince’s sprawling handwriting style. Now, unless they lodge an appeal at court, seven Whitehall departments will, within a month, have to hand over letters sent during a seven-month period during 2004-05.
Anti-monarchists have also launched a Westminster campaign to persuade parliamentarians to take action against royal political interference.
“Questions about Prince Charles’s and the Queen’s political interfering and the obligation on parliament to seek royal consent for legislation should cause concern on all sides in parliament,” said Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, the group advocating replacement of the British monarchy with an elected head of state. “The idea that the monarchy is politically neutral and harmless has been exposed as a hoax – royal interference in British political life must be challenged.”
The commissioner ruled that Whitehall guidance to assist those drafting new laws “in determining whether any part of a bill might require the consent of the Duchy of Cornwall” was not covered by legal professional privilege.
The government’s move to challenge the ruling was confirmed in a letter last week from the information commissioner’s office to John Kirkhope, the person who requested release of the documents.
Kirkhope had argued that it was “in the public interest that citizens understand how laws are made and applied as well as the circumstances in which the Duchy of Cornwall is consulted”.
In the past two parliamentary sessions Charles has been asked to consent to at least 12 draft bills, on various issues from wreck removals to co-operative societies. Between 2007 and 2009 he was consulted on bills relating to coroners, energy, planning, economic development and construction, marine and coastal access, and housing and regeneration.
In Charles’s case, the little known power stems from his role as head of the £700m Duchy of Cornwall estate, which provides his £18m-a-year private income.
Kirkhope called the Cabinet Office’s appeal outrageous. “All I have asked to see is a copy of the rules by which it is determined laws are made in this country. Why do parliamentarians tolerate a situation in which they introduce a bill in parliament and someone may come up to them and say you need the consent of the Duke of Cornwall? If they ask why, they’ll be told the Cabinet Office guidance is secret and they are not allowed to see it.”
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