The Queen is at the centre of a Government row over proposed moves that would give the public sweeping rights to demand secret information.
The Liberal Democrats have been incensed by Conservatives’ attempts to restrict a new ‘right to data’ law so that it excludes the Royal Family.
The new open access law, which was secured by the Lib Dems as part of the Coalition agreement, would extend the freedom of information rules, which have unearthed scandals such as last year’s furore over MPs’ expenses.
But after lobbying from Buckingham Palace – which is worried that it would lead to a rash of fresh revelations – the Justice Ministry has proposed a blanket ban on the release of details about the Royals. The move has infuriated Lib Dems, who argue that the Royals should be held to account for the way they spend taxpayers’ money.
Under the current rules, although members of the Royal Family cannot be directly subjected to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, Whitehall departments holding information about them can be ordered to release details if it is deemed in the public interest.
Recent disclosures have included secret correspondence between the Government and the Royal Household which showed that courtiers were lobbying for a top-up to the annual £42 million maintenance grant for palaces.
The Royals have been embarrassed by repeated revelations about the cost of global junkets by Prince Andrew in his role as a British trade ambassador, and by details of Prince Charles’s ‘black spider’ memos – a reference to his handwriting – to ministers on issues such as the environment, architecture and education.
FoI requests have disclosed how Charles foiled a £3 billion redevelopment of London’s Chelsea Barracks after personally meeting planning officials, and how he lobbied the NHS to provide homeopathy.
One senior Lib Dem with access to the negotiations said he was ‘livid’ over the attempt to restrict the reforms.
‘It was written into the Coalition agreement that the scope of the Freedom of Information Act would be extended,’ he said.
‘Openness in Government is part of the spirit and philosophy of the party, and that should extend to finding out how the monarchy is spending taxpayers’ money. We have made enough compromises as it is to take our place in the Coalition and we are not really in the mood to make any more.’
Last night Lib Dem MP Tom Brake demanded the inclusion of the Royals in the new law.
‘The Royal Family should be subject to freedom of information rules, with the sole exception of the usual considerations about security,’ he said. ‘The balance of these things should always lie on the side of transparency.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We are looking carefully to see where we can further increase the openness and transparency of public affairs whilst ensuring that sensitive information is properly protected. We will announce the next steps on this in due course.’
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said they could not comment because the proposals had not yet become law.