Prince Charles’ Reading Material

There’s been another dust-up over the Prince of Wales’ role in government: the release of certain sections of the Cabinet Office Precedent Book has shown that he automatically receives papers from the Cabinet and ministerial committees. Unsurprisingly, this ‘revelation’ has provoked outrage from the usual suspects (Republic, the Guardian, Paul Flynn MP). The shadow climate change minister has even demanded a parliamentary inquiry!

Prince Charles’ critics claim that his access to official papers is unusual, but there are plenty of precedents for it. Edward VII made sure that the future George V kept abreast of government business,[1] and George VI did the same with the current Queen. In fact, this tradition is now enshrined in a constitutional convention (the so-called ‘education convention’).[2]

There is nothing untoward about Prince Charles having access to state papers. People often assume that the Monarch is little more than a human autopen, but that’s not true. The Queen has the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. Since Prince Charles is only a heartbeat away from the Throne, he must know what is going on in government.[3] Republic, et al might not approve, but it’s well within the bounds of the constitution.

NOTES

[1] This was in sharp contrast to his mother’s approach–Victoria kept Edward well away from state business.

[2] The nature of the education convention was discussed extensively during the legal wrangling over the release of Prince Charles’ correspondence with Ministers. Although the courts disagreed with the Government’s interpretation of the convention, they did not dispute its existence. See Evans v Information Commissioner [2012] UKUT 313 and R (on the application of Evans) and another (Respondents) v Attorney General (Appellant) [2015] UKSC 21.

[3] Many of Prince Charles’ critics allege that giving him access to state papers will facilitate his ‘meddling’ in affairs of state. Although his exchanges with Ministers aren’t on the same constitutional footing as the Queen’s, there now seems to be a consensus that he should be able to enter into dialogue with the Government of the day. Of course, Ministers are under no obligation to accede to his wishes. As the recent disclosure of his correspondence has shown, Ministers are willing to say no to him.

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