UK

Prince Charles's private letters published

Prince Charles Image copyright PA
Image caption The release of Prince Charles's private letters follows a decade-long campaign by the Guardian

Private letters sent by the Prince of Wales to Labour ministers a decade ago have been published after a lengthy legal battle.

Clarence House said the move would "only inhibit" the prince's ability to express concerns.

In one letter to the prime minister, the prince said the armed forces were being asked to do a challenging job "without the necessary resources".

Release of the letters follows a decade-long campaign by the Guardian.

The 27 letters to seven government departments on wide-ranging subjects, including the dominance of supermarkets, badger culling and the herbal medicine sector, were written between September 2004 and April 2005.

A government veto on publication was declared unlawful by the Court of Appeal last year - a decision which was upheld by the Supreme Court in March.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The prince wrote that the Army Air Corps was hampered by the 'poor performance' of the Lynx helicopter
Image copyright Cabinet Office

In one letter to the prime minister from September 2004, the prince expressed concern that the Army Air Corps' ability to deploy equipment was being "frustrated by the poor performance of the existing Lynx aircraft in high temperatures".

"I fear that this is just one more example of where our Armed Forces are being asked to do an extremely challenging job (particularly in Iraq) without the necessary resources," he wrote.

The then Prime Minister Tony Blair replied a month later saying he found the prince's letter "constructive and thought provoking" and that the limitations of the existing Lynx helicopters were recognised by the Ministry of Defence.

In February 2005, Prince Charles wrote a letter to Mr Blair in which he said the "dominant position" of retailers was the "single biggest issue affecting British farmers and the food chain".

In response, Mr Blair said: "I have on occasion expressed precisely the concern about retailers' 'arm lock' on suppliers that you express so well. I know too that after something of an improvement things have recently got worse.

"As you may be aware (and this was the main reason why I have delayed writing until now) the OFT issued its report on this subject on Tuesday."

Image copyright Cabinet Office
Image copyright Cabinet Office
Image copyright Cabinet Office

Analysis

BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt

This is the briefest of glimpses of Charles, the lobbying prince.

And lobbying on an eye-watering range of subjects - historic buildings, herbal medicine, the albatross, healthy food and sustainable fishing.

It's a wonder the heir to the throne has time to sleep.

Royal officials insist he has done nothing inappropriate and at no stage, in any of the correspondence, did he stray into party political matters.

These letters have resonance and relevance because of his proximity to the throne.

Charles's challenge is that their content will not generate a unified response to the activities of a prince who'll one day occupy the unifying role of head of state.

His critics will accuse him of secret meddling.

His supporters insist he cares about the issues he raises and he is only doing his duty.


Image copyright Cabinet Office
Image copyright Cabinet Office

In the same letter, the prince said the rising number of tuberculosis (TB) cases in cattle was a "most pressing and urgent problem", which had been "caused and spread" by badgers.

He wrote: "I do urge you to look again at introducing a proper cull of badgers where it is necessary.

"I, for one, cannot understand how the 'badger lobby' seem to mind not at all about the slaughter of thousands of expensive cattle, and yet object to a managed cull of an over-population of badgers - to me, this is intellectually dishonest."

Prince Charles went on to write that an EU directive banning hundreds of traditional herbal remedies was "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

He offered "a more detailed briefing" from his advisers.

In reply, Mr Blair thanked the prince for his "contacts... who have been sensible and constructive".

He said they were "absolutely correct" that implementation plans were "crazy".

In a 2005 letter to Tessa Jowell, then culture secretary, Prince Charles asked for "a bit of imaginative flexibility" on funding rules to help conservation efforts for historic Antarctic huts.

'Does meddle'

Conservative MP Michael Ellis told the BBC that the prince had the "right to counsel, to advise and to warn" and was "making gentle suggestions".

Colonel Richard Kemp, a former British commander in Afghanistan, said: "It is absolutely right that if he comes across problems and issues that concern him, he should bring them to the attention of the government.

"He put his finger on some grave deficiencies in the armed forces, particularly in Iraq at the time, where helicopters were unreliable and also there were too few helicopters."

Image copyright Cabinet Office
Image copyright PA
Image caption The prince urged Tony Blair to look again at introducing a 'proper cull of badgers'

Graham Smith, chief executive of anti-monarchy campaign group Republic, said the prince "does meddle".

He said the government had wanted the letters kept secret "so that we can carry on pretending he [the prince] is impartial".

"In fact they [members of the royal family] are busy trying to influence politicians… and that is not acceptable in a democratic society."

Catherine Mayer, who wrote a biography of Prince Charles, said: "There are a few areas where he is grappling directly with policy, which he is not supposed to be doing - most notably around the provision for soldiers in Iraq."

Former Environment Secretary Dame Margaret Beckett said: "I think what is unfortunate is that if he had known his letters were going to be published he might have... couched them in different terms. "

'Unique perspective'

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger said: "We fought this case because we believed - and the most senior judges in the country agreed - that the royal family should operate to the same degrees of transparency as anyone else trying to make their influence felt in public life."

Clarence House said the prince was raising issues of public concern, "trying to find practical ways to address the issues".

The prince carries out more than 600 engagements a year, which Clarence House said "gives him a unique perspective".

It added: "Sometimes this leads him to communicate his experience or, indeed, his concerns or suggestions to ministers, from all governments, of whatever party, either in meetings or in writing."

During a visit to a Prince's Trust charitable project in London, the prince was asked by a reporter if he was "worried" about the release of the documents.

"Very predictable," he replied, as his press secretary Kristina Kyriacou pushed away the microphone of Channel 4 News reporter Michael Crick.

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