Friday, 15 May 2015

Britain is no country for an old Prince called Charles and his black spider memos

Britain is a country where Her Majesties Government Ministers are constantly lobbied by construction and property interests, doctors and big pharma, beef and barley barons, defence suppliers the bankers and all of this, unseen, uncharted and undisclosed.

Unlike them, Charles, 66 years old Prince and heir to the throne of Great Britain, has had his confidential lobbying to  Government Ministers 10 years ago, made public and disclosed. For six months, when he was 56, his letters, known in his 'black spider' memos, after his black-inked, spindly handwriting, covered a disparate range of topics revealing his personal interest in :

* Beef farming
* The power of supermarkets
* Lynx helicopters
* Badger culling
* Irish jails
* The fate of sea birds
* Derelict hospitals
* Listed buildings
* Scott and Shackleton’s Antarctic huts
* Summer schools
* Old-fashioned teaching methods
* Herbal medicines
* Albatrosses and the Patagonian toothfish
* Dairy quotas

Release of the letters has brought to an end a decade-long battle that started with a 'Freedom of Information' request in April 2005, by Guardian journalist Rob Evans. A total of 27 letters written between 2004 and 2005 to seven Whitehall Departments have been uncovered after a protracted legal tussle that passed before 16 judges, sitting in a range of courts, from an obscure tribunal to the Supreme Court, at the cost of £400,000 to the taxpayer.

Through all of this, the growing-old, Prince of Wales, stuck to his guns, as did successive Governments, believing that he, by virtue of the position he held, should have a right to communicate privately and the publication of his letters could only inhibit his ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings. Parliament, agreed with the Prince and passed legislation in 2010 to ensure that the communications of the Prince of Wales and that of the Queen, should be exempt from publication under the Freedom of Information Act. So the old Prince can now rest easy. It’s unlikely letters like these will be seen again.

Revealed, at last, for example, is the Prince's concern for a species of cod icefish found in the Southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans when he wrote to Elliot Morley, then 'Minister of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' : 'I particularly hope that the illegal fishing of the Patagonian toothfish will be high on your list of priorities because until that trade is stopped, there is little hope for the poor old albatross, for which I will continue to campaign. Let us hope that between all of us who mind about sustainable fishing, we can make a difference before it is all too late.'

We might be forced to conclude that the Prince's black spiders are harmless little creatures in comparison with the multimillion-pound tarantulas of big-time business, darkly going about their lobbying, without fear of the exposure to the daylight reserved for Britain's old Prince.

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