Changes are being made to Freedom of Information legislation with the aim of increasing transparency. The 30-year-rule is to be reduced to 20 years and the number of bodies which must obey the law is to increase. But in other areas privacy is to be strengthened. Changes to the Constitutional Reform Act will mean that communication between the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and the Government is an absolute exemption and will be protected from public scrutiny. Public interest will no longer be a valid argument for obtaining these documents.
With the changes taking place from today, here’s a look back at some of the top Queen-related stories to come from FOIs.
March 2005: Information was released about the amount of subsidies going to some of Britain’s richest landowners, including the Queen and Prince Charles. It was announced that this would be made available after the Guardian submitted a Freedom of Information request on the topic. The Government rejected calls from farm groups for it to remain private, on the basis that it was in the public interest. The case was described by the Guardian as “The most radical move to be taken by ministers since the Freedom of Information Act came into force on January 1”.
March 2010: Journalists from the Independent made a Freedom of Information request into the correspondence between the Buckingham Palace and the Government revealed the Queen’s financial crisis. Details included that the Queen had asked the Government for more money for palace upkeep and that minor royals were being allowed to live rent-free.
August 2009: A Freedom of Information request was declined by Norfolk Police. It was submitted by Daily Mail journalists and asked for details of the gifts made to police officers who guard the Queen’s Sandringham estate. They refused to provide the information on the basis that it might “provide anyone intent on committing acts of terrorism with vital intelligence as to the level of police resistance that they may encounter”.
September 2010: The Daily Mail reported on how the Queen’s royal officials had spent a £15m grant from the Department for Culture. The article was based on a Freedom of Information request which revealed a spend of £96,000 on cleaning chandeliers and £14,000 on a curtain to protect wine bottles in the Buckingham Palace cellar. A Buckingham Palace spokesman defended the move by saying: “To an average person who has an average house, it seems a lot. But this is our Head of State in her headquarters and a high standard has to be maintained. People are not profligate with the spending.”
September 2010: Documents disclosed following a Freedom of Information request revealed that the Queen had asked ministers for money from a poverty intended for low-income families to pay for palace heating. This is despite already receiving £38m a year from the tax payer and her request was rejected to avoid bad press.