One rule for them, one rule for us - Royal Family documents given blanket exemption

Members of the public and journalists will be banned from seeing the contents of secret documents on the Cabinet and Royal Family under measures quietly announced by Gordon Brown last week.

The Prime Minister's reforms on improving parliament contained a little-noticed plan to block Freedom of Information requests on Cabinet papers, even if there is a public interest case.

The blanket exemption, which will be seen as a retrograde step in access to information and transparency, also applies to documents relating to members of the Royal Family.

The publication of Cabinet papers and Royal Family documents are currently subject to a 30-year-rule. Anyone can use an FOI request, in the public interest, to ask for the documents to be published within those 30 years. Requests can be blocked by a ministerial veto – as was the case in the demand for Cabinet minutes of discussions in the run-up to the Iraq war. But FOI requests for Royal papers have been successful.

The change ends the public interest FOI option, however, and a blanket exemption is in place to "protect constitutional conventions".

Royal secrets withheld under revised information rules (The Independent on Sunday, 14 June 2009)