6 things we learned about Prince Charles' influence on politics from the release of his 'black spider letters'

What do the recently published memos reveal?

Cahal Milmo,Chris Green
Thursday 14 May 2015 11:56 BST
Charles lobbied the government on various issues
Charles lobbied the government on various issues (Getty Images)

After a 10-year, £400,000 legal battle, Prince Charles' so-called 'black spider' memos to government departments have finally been published.

Here are what they reveal:

1. The Prince was able to push 'alternative medicine' on government health policy

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The letters offer tantalising evidence that it was within the realm of Prince Charles’s longstanding interest in homeopathy and alternative medicine that the heir to the throne was able to wield tangible influence over government policy. In a missive to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair written in February 2005, the Prince raises a European Union directive on complementary medicine which he said would have the effect of banning a number of herbal extracts.

The four-page letter seeks to summarise a recent meeting between Charles and Mr Blair, in which the prince suggests that they had both agreed the Brussels directive was “a sledgehammer to crack a nut” and the Prime Minister had “rightly asked me what could be done about it”.

A separate letter in February 2005 from then Health Secretary John Reid makes clear the government’s support for another issue pushed by Charles – the introduction of a regulatory authority for complementary therapies. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, dubbed “OfQuack” by commentators, was eventually announced in 2008 as a voluntary body for practitioners with the help of a £1.1m grant from the Department for Health.

Writing in March 2005, Mr Blair defends the directive as “sound” but adds that he agrees its proposed implementation is “crazy”. He adds: “We can do quite a lot here: we will delay implementation for all existing products to 2001; we will take more of the implementation upon ourselves.” The Labour Prime Minister then undertakes to ensure that a charity set up by the Prince to promote alternative medicine – the Foundation for Integrated Health – is included in helping to decide government action.

2. He  supported a badger cull

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People opposing a cull of badgers to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in cattle were described by Charles as “intellectually dishonest” in a letter revealing that he has long been in favour of the controversial process. In a letter to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005, the Prince criticised what he described as the “badger lobby” for objecting to the killing of badgers while disregarding the slaughter of cattle which contract the disease.

Warning that the rising number of cases of TB in cattle was the most pressing and urgent problem facing the agricultural sector, he urged Mr Blair to “look again” at introducing a cull of badgers. Trial culls were eventually launched in Gloucester and Somerset by the Coalition government in 2013 but were not expanded after being deemed ineffective and inhumane.

“I do urge you to look again at introducing a proper cull of badgers where it is necessary,” the Prince wrote. “I for one cannot understand how the ‘badger lobby’ seem not to mind at all about the slaughter of thousands of expensive cattle, and yet object to a managed cull of an overpopulation of badgers – to me, this is intellectually dishonest.”

The intervention by the Prince was one of a series of attempts he made to lobby Mr Blair on agricultural and rural issues. In a letter in 2004, he said more should do more to encourage the public to buy beef from British farmers. In the same note, he urged the Prime Minister to put “pressure” on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to reduce the bureaucratic burdens farmers faced. In his reply, Mr Blair said he and the Prince were “at one” on the importance of reducing farming bureaucracy and that Defra needed to “do more” on the issue.

3. He was worried about the armed forces' equipment – or lack thereof

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The willingness of the heir to the throne to intervene in one of the most sensitive areas of government responsibility – Britain’s armed forces – is made clear in the secret letters.

Prince Charles wrote to Mr Blair in September 2004 expressing his concern at the lack of resources for British troops then fighting in Iraq to contain the aftermath of the allied invasion. He raises the issue of whether the Lynx helicopters being used in the Middle East were fit for purpose and comes close to suggesting that the government has sent troops into Iraq without appropriate equipment.

The Prince wrote: “The procurement of a new aircraft to replace the Lynx is subject to further delays and uncertainty due to the significant pressure on the defence budget. I fear that this 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.”

Clarence House said Charles, a former naval officer and RAF pilot who holds multiple honorary ranks within the services, was echoing concerns from within the Armed Forces.

4. He is a traditionalist when it comes to education

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Prince Charles confessed to holding “old-fashioned views” on schooling as he lobbied successive Education Secretaries to change teaching methods in Britain’s schools.

The letters show that the heir to the throne mused about the creation of a teacher training college to further the aims of an education summer school run by one of his charities.

Writing in November 2004 to then Education Secretary Charles Clarke, he makes clear his belief that teachers of English and history were in danger of losing their passion for the subjects because of “fashionable” teaching techniques. He wrote: “My Summer Schools are also challenging the fashionable view that teachers should not impart bodies of knowledge, but should instead act as ‘facilitators’ or ‘coaches’, a notion which I find difficult to understand, I must admit.”

Aides to the prince said he was responding to concerns from within the teaching profession as well as voicing his own belief that young people should have “inspiring” teachers.

5. He was concerned about the fate of buildings

The chairman of English Heritage received a letter from Charles in which he urged the conservation charity to step in to protect buildings in London’s Smithfield Market which were earmarked for demolition.

The Prince’s lobbying of Sir Neil Cossons was revealed in a February 2005 letter from the then Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, in which she told him she shared his concern about the fate of the buildings. On advice from English Heritage, she asked the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to ensure they were not razed. In his reply, the Prince wrote: “I can only pray that the Deputy Prime Minister will take your advice and give the most careful consideration to development plans.”

6. He thought saving the Patagonian Toothfish should be a matter of 'priority'


One of the more bizarre exchanges in the Prince’s correspondence with ministers came in an October 2004 letter to Defra minister Elliot Morley, in which he raised concerns about the fate of the Patagonian Toothfish.

At the time, Mr Morley was chairing the High Seas Task Force, which had been set up to address the problem of illegal fishing. Charles described the efforts to “bring to heel” countries which sanctioned the practice as “enormously encouraging”.

He added: “I particularly hope that the illegal fishing of the Patagonian Toothfish will be high on your list of priorities because until that trade is stopped, there is little hope for the poor old albatross, for which I will continue to campaign.”

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