Publication of Prince Charles’ “Black Spider Memos”

As readers of the Behind the Headlines column in Environmental Law and Management will be aware, the protection formerly afforded to the “black spiders” came to an end following the judgement of the Supreme Court in R (Evans) v Attorney General [2015] UKSC 21. This concerned an appeal brought by HM Attorney General against the decision of the Court of Appeal quashing a Certificate which he issued on 16 October 2012 under section 53(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the FOIA 2000”) and regulation 18(6) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“EIR 2004”). The underlying question was whether communications passing between HRH The Prince of Wales and ministers in various government departments between September 2004 and March 2005 (a.k.a. “the black spider memos”, a reflection of the Prince’s distinctive handwriting) should be disclosed under a request made by Rob Evans, a journalist working on the Guardian newspaper.

As a consequence of the ruling of the Supreme Court, this afternoon the Cabinet Office published the following:

1. The Prince of Wales corresponded with the Minister of State for the Environment, Elliot Morley, in 2004 about illegal fishing.

Prince of Wales correspondence with Minister for the Environment, 2004: illegal fishing

The Prince of Wales had raised concerns about the plight of the albatross for some time. One of the main reasons for their decline was thought to be due to Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing.

The Prince of Wales wrote to the then Fisheries Minister, following a letter about the work of the High Seas Task Force (HSTF). The HSTF emerged in 2003 from the Round Table on Sustainable Development. This committee of ministerial representatives from a small group of countries was formed to address the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on the high seas, a practice which was adversely affecting albatross numbers.

2. The Prince of Wales corresponded with Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2004 to 2005 about rural and agricultural issues.

Prince of Wales correspondence with the Prime Minister, 2004 to 2005: rural and agricultural issues

His Royal Highness corresponded with the Prime Minister on issues of particular concern including supporting hill farmers, bovine tuberculosis (TB), procuring British produce including British beef and challenges for the dairy sector.

The correspondence about bovine TB centres on the rising number of TB cases in cattle and the cost to the taxpayer. It also refers to a study of the impact of badger culling in the Republic of Ireland, which showed the efficacy of culling in reducing badger infection. For the dairy sector, most farmers were making no profit on the production of milk and some were making considerable losses.

The letters deal with the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy, and help that could be provided to farmers who were struggling to cope with the new business processes.

3. The Prince of Wales corresponded with Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, in 2004 about regenerating historic buildings in Northern Ireland.

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, 2004: regenerating historic buildings

At the time of writing Armagh Gaol, one of Northern Ireland’s most important historic buildings, had been vacant for 20 years. In the correspondence His Royal Highness offered the help and expertise of his charities to find a new and practical solution to help save the site.

Alongside the Trevor Osborne Group and Armagh City Council the Prince’s Regeneration Trust     PRT played a part in the successful regeneration of Armagh Gaol.

4. Prince of Wales correspondence with the Prime Minister

Prince of Wales correspondence with the Prime Minister, 2004 to 2005: rural and agricultural issues

His Royal Highness corresponded with the Prime Minister on issues of particular concern including supporting hill farmers, bovine tuberculosis (TB), procuring British produce including British beef and challenges for the dairy sector.

The correspondence about bovine TB centres on the rising number of TB cases in cattle and the cost to the taxpayer. It also refers to a study of the impact of badger culling in the Republic of Ireland, which showed the efficacy of culling in reducing badger infection. For the dairy sector, most farmers were making no profit on the production of milk and some were making considerable losses.

The letters deal with the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy, and help that could be provided to farmers who were struggling to cope with the new business processes.

5. Prince of Wales correspondence with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The Prince of Wales corresponded with Tessa Jowell in 2004 to 2005 on a conference, the Smithfield Market and Shackleton and Scott’s Huts.

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Culture, 2004: conference invitation

The Prince of Wales’s Private Secretary invited the then Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, to speak at a conference organized by one of His Royal Highness’s charities. The Secretary of State had a prior engagement.

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Culture, 2005: Smithfield Market

Parts of Smithfield Market, the only wholesale market that remains in its original location within the Square Mile of The City of London, were threatened with demolition. The General Market and Annexe buildings were in danger of being torn down.

During this time, several campaigns, promoted in particular by conservation group SAVE Britain’s Heritage,     fought to ensure that this unique London landmark was preserved. Drawing a comparison with the longstanding derelict site at the Bishopsgate Goodsyard in East London, His Royal Highness added his voice to concerns about the future of the market.

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Culture, 2004 to 2005: Shackleton and Scott’s Huts

The Prince contacted the Secretary of State after hearing that the future of huts built by the British polar explorers Scott and Shackleton was under threat. The structures contain thousands of unique artefacts, providing an enduring testimony to remarkable achievements of discovery and endurance and the associated tragedy.

All 4 huts are located within the Ross Sea Dependency, part of the Realm of New Zealand. However, the iconic huts are the product of British expeditions and are of great significance to British cultural heritage and are part of the shared history of Britain and New Zealand. In 2001, it was agreed that a major conservation programme was required if the huts were to survive for future generations.

In February 2007 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office committed £250,000 to the restoration project. DCMS also asked Arts and Business, one of The Prince’s charities, to work with the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust on their fundraising campaign.

6. Prince of Wales correspondence with the Secretary of State for Education

6.1 School nutrition

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Education, 2004: school nutrition

Charles Clarke, then the Education Secretary, wrote to The Prince of Wales in response to The Prince of Wales previous letter highlighting the importance of quality food provision in schools.

Charles Clarke’s reply explained the action that was being taken by government departments to address the issue of nutrition. He acknowledged the evidence that demonstrates a link between a healthy diet and improved child behaviour. He stated approval of regional efforts to improve food quality in schools and to promote the use of sustainable produce.

6.2 The Prince of Wales’s Summer Schools

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Education, 2004 to 2005: Prince of Wales’s Summer Schools

The exchange of letters between the Prince of Wales and Charles Clarke and Ruth Kelly stemmed from the success of the first 3 Summer Schools.

His Royal Highness was keen to ensure that the positive relationships which had been created with the department and the various Secretaries of State were continued, so The Prince of Wales’s office wrote with copies of the McKinsey & Company feasibility study. The study recommended that ‘there was sufficient commitment and potential for revenue to support the establishment of a new Prince’s charity’.

7. Prince of Wales correspondence with the Secretary of State for Health

7.1 Cherry Knowle hospital site

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Health, 2004 to 2005: Cherry Knowle hospital site

The old victorian asylum building on the Cherry Knowle site in Sunderland, also known as the Laurels Block, was decommissioned in 1995. Since then the Mental Health Trust (South of Tyne and Wearside) received outline planning permission for redeveloping the site for housing, a hospital and community facilities.

In 2003 The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, now known as The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community,     conducted an Enquiry by Design exercise. The Foundation worked with the local community and stakeholders to come up with a new vision for the site. It identified that the original site of the hospital would be regenerated as housing, and that a new hospital and around 800 homes could be built on site.

In 2004 it was announced that the site would be transferred (together with other NHS surplus estates) to the English Partnerships agency. Following this change in ownership the proposed plans for the site stalled, leaving the hospital and its estate to fall into further disrepair. His Royal Highness’s correspondence emphasises his commitment to the rescue of historic buildings with input from, and for the benefit of, the local community. The correspondence highlights the work that The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community did with the local community. It also explains the ways in which the community’s vision could be implemented following the change of ownership of the site.

7.2 Herbal medicine and acupuncture

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Health, 2005: herbal medicine and acupuncture

This correspondence was with the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Secretary of State for Health, John Reid.

The European Directive on Traditional Herbal Medical Products (THMPD) was enacted into UK law in 2004, and fully implemented in 2011. According to the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA), this left many practitioners of herbal medicine unregulated. This, in turn, meant that a significant number of herbal remedies, on which patients had come to rely, disappeared. Third-party suppliers were no longer able to offer products to practitioners, as, without statutory regulation, the practitioners were not recognised under the terms of the Directive. As an alternative, people have since sourced remedies from unknown suppliers, often over the internet.

In 2005 the Department of Health was considering regulation of herbal medicine and acupuncture, following the European Directive.

8. Prince of Wales correspondence with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

Prince of Wales correspondence with Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, 2004: In Kind Direct

The former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry wrote to The Prince of Wales to say that she had met with the charity In Kind Direct (founded by The Prince of Wales in 1996) to hear about the charity’s work.

Patricia Hewitt said she is unable to help with any funding for In Kind Direct. She also said she has tried to assist by introducing them to various other public sector bodies or to other government colleagues.

The Prince replied to thank the Secretary of State for her help.

Comment

The Supreme Court judgement (and the publication of the letters) is important in a number of respects: the content of the letters themselves, which includes the Prince’s views on certain environmental issues; the constitutional implications associated with the Prince’s past and future involvement with government; and its implications on other issues associated with the Freedom of Information Act. The latter have been summarized in a recent House of Commons Standard Note[1], which in addition to the Prince of Wales letters considers six other cases over the period 2003 to the present involving the use of ministerial vetoes. Most recently, in January 2015, the Transport Secretary prevented the disclosure of a report and associated environmental information on HS2, and following the Supreme Court’s judgement, this may too be viewed as unlawful.

Postscript

The Guardian, whose single email initiated the long-running saga which en route involved 16 judges’ rulings culminating in the Supreme Court judgement, quotes a Clarence House spokesperson as saying “The letters published by the government show the Prince of Wales expressing concern about issues that he has raised in public … Nonetheless, the Prince of Wales believes, as have successive governments, that he should have a right to communicate privately … The publication of private letters can only inhibit his ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings.”

Schedule 7 to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, passed just before the 2010 general election, created a new but time-limited absolute exemption for correspondence with the Crown and other members of the royal family.

David Pocklington


[1] House of Commons Library, Standard Note SN/PC/05007, FoI and Ministerial vetoes, 19 March 2014.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Publication of Prince Charles’ “Black Spider Memos”" in Law & Religion UK, 13 May 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/05/13/publication-of-prince-charles-black-spider-memos/

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