How short some memories are. It was less than two years ago that MPs blundered into the expenses scandal by trying to exempt themselves from requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Their self-destructive actions put them on a collision course with the Information Commissioner and ended in the humbling of Parliament.
Now Labour ministers, aided and abetted by Buckingham Palace, risk a similar debacle by denying the public access to sensitive and embarrassing documents relating to the funding of the Queen's occupied palaces.
Today's disclosure of more than 100 letters, emails and memos is merely the tip of an iceberg concealing secret correspondence between ministers, officials and the Palace. Last year the Information Commissioner, who has seen all the undisclosed material, judged that there was a public interest in releasing it to The Independent.
But the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is determined to fight the case at the Information Tribunal, which rules on disputes over disclosure, until the documents have no publication value.
What has already been released suggests a rather cosy relationship between the DCMS and the Royal Household in accounting for how taxpayers' money is spent on the upkeep of the palaces.
For example, it wasn't until the end of 2005 that Buckingham Palace woke up to the idea that by switching to a wholesale provider of electricity and gas, the Queen could save hundreds of thousands of pounds in energy costs. At a time like the present, when everybody is tightening their belts, it is even more important that we know how our money is being spent.
There are also examples of huge overspends on refurbishments of the occupied palace which government officials appear only too keen to waive through. Palace officials have made much of the Queen's savings in recent years – while at the same time asking for more public money to fund a property maintenance backlog of £32m.
In every other aspect of public life, the price of receiving state subsidies is understood to be complete transparency. So while it is welcome news that the Government has agreed to release some of the documents, we patiently wait for disclosure of the rest so we can fully report the story.
- More about:
- Buckingham Palace
- Department For Culture
- Freedom Of Information Act
- Media And Sport
- The Royal Family