Secrecy for Queen’s finances challenged

SCOTLAND’S new information commissioner has challenged plans to give the Royal Family an automatic exemption from Freedom of Information laws.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Rosemary Agnew questioned Scottish Government proposals to tighten rules surrounding the disclosure of information about the Royal Family.

An Amendment Bill to the original 2002 Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act proposes changing the “qualified” exemption to royal communications to an absolute exemption.

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Agnew, who succeeded the first Scottish information commissioner Kevin Dunion last month, said: “I have some reservations about the absolute exemption of the Royal Family. It is a general principle of freedom of information laws around the world that absolute exemptions should be relatively rare.

“The proposed amendment would introduce another absolute exemption into Scotland’s FOI laws – one which is particularly wide in scope, applying as it would to all information relating to communications.”

Communications by the Royal Family are currently subject to a qualified Freedom of Information exemption. A qualified exemption means that a “balance of public interest” test is applied – and only where the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure can information be withheld.

The qualified exemption

relates to communications with the Queen, other members of the Royal Family or the royal household.

The Amendment Bill proposes to change this to create an absolute exemption for information relating to communications with Her Majesty, the heir or second in line of succession, with no requirement to consider the balance of public interest.

The move appears to fly in the face of Scottish Government claims that the Amendment Act is designed to make more information public more quickly.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The amendment on correspondence sent by (or on behalf of) Her Majesty will bring Scotland into line with the rest of the UK and aims to ensure consistent protection for the monarch and heir across the UK – by safeguarding the well-established conventions of confidentiality.”

• The Duke of Edinburgh smiled and nodded to reporters as he left hospital yesterday in time to celebrate his 91st birthday today.

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Prince Philip shook hands with and thanked staff at King Edward VII Hospital in London after spending five days there having treatment for a bladder infection.

The Duke got into the front passenger seat of a Land Rover Discovery vehicle before being driven away from the hospital, with a police escort. When reporters shouted out questions about whether he was feeling better, the Duke nodded.