Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009

Prince warned over role in government policy

Prince Charles
Prince Charles has strong views on architecture and the environment

A senior Liberal Democrat MP has warned Prince Charles to be "very careful" about his role in political matters.

The prince has written to ministers in eight Whitehall departments since 2006, a Guardian investigation found.

Chris Huhne said the prince had to respect the separation between the "democratically accountable" and "ceremonial" parts of the constitution.

Clarence House said the prince as heir to the throne had the right to "communicate confidentially".

The Prince of Wales, who is known to have strong views on the environment, farming and architecture, wrote to politicians in eight government departments, including the Treasury and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, since 2006, according to the Guardian.

The Prince of Wales is entitled to ask about what is going on, but if he is urging a particular point of view then that's a different matter
Chris Huhne

His advisers wrote to five departments in the same period, pressing ministers to bring policy into line with the prince's beliefs on matters like hospital building and eco town design, it said.

Disclosure

The newspaper used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the documents, although Whitehall departments refused to release the content of the letters.

Mr Huhne urged the prince to be "very careful" about his role in government policy.

This is our government, the people's government. We must know if ministers are making policy decisions based on the best interests of the people or on the whims of the Prince
Republic, anti-monarchy group

"The Prince of Wales is entitled to ask about what is going on, but if he is urging a particular point of view then that's a different matter.

"He has to be very careful to respect the traditional separation between the democratically accountable parts of the constitution and the ceremonial parts," he said.

Former sports minister Richard Caborn said it was wrong to keep the letters secret.

"He is entitled to press his views. But I would treat it no differently to anybody else's. If he is making his views known to ministers, they should be in the public domain. He can't have it both ways," he said.

Gordon Brown has ordered a block on the disclosure of correspondence sent to ministers by members of the Royal Family.

Clarence House denied the prince's household had lobbied the government to stop the disclosure of his letters and defended his right to secrecy.

'Private'

The Prince's role as a privy counsellor gave him the right to communicate confidentially with ministers on matters, it said.

"It is generally accepted that the heir to the throne should be aware of the business of government and that correspondence between government ministers should be treated as private and confidential on all sides," a spokesman added.

But Republic, an anti-monarchy campaign group, claimed the prince had gone beyond his remit.

"It is clear that Charles is seeking an active role in politics, even if he becomes king.

"He is busy lobbying ministers, he is trying to influence the decisions government makes. This simply cannot be allowed to continue behind closed doors.

"This is our government, the people's government. We must know if ministers are making policy decisions based on the best interests of the people or on the whims of the prince," a spokesman said.

It is not the first time the prince has come under fire for taking a direct personal interest in political matters.

In September, Republic claimed Prince Charles' architecture charity was being used as his "personal lobby firm".

The claim came after plans to redevelop Chelsea Barracks site in west London were dropped after the prince called them "unsympathetic".

The prince's charity, the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment called Republic's claim "unfounded and baseless".



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