Princes Charles criticised Iraq war resources in Blair letter

Royal’s correspondence includes notes on Armagh Gaol, badgers and herbal medicine

Prince Charles said British troops were underresourced during the war in Iraq, according to letters published today following a lengthy battle to keep them private. Photograph:  Alastair Grant/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prince Charles said British troops were underresourced during the war in Iraq, according to letters published today following a lengthy battle to keep them private. Photograph: Alastair Grant/WPA Pool/Getty Images

 

Prince Charles said British troops were underresourced during the war in Iraq, according to letters from the royal published today.

The government had tried to keep the letters secret in case they cast doubt over the future king’s political neutrality.

The comment about the armed forces came in a letter from the 66-year-old prince to former UK prime minister Tony Blair in 2004, one of 27 letters he wrote to former ministers between 2004 and 2005 that were released to the public after a decade of attempts by the government to block their publication.

“I fear that this is 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,” the prince wrote in the letter to Mr Blair.

The Prince of Wales also spoke highly of the army air corps Oxbow surveillance equipment which he had seen in Northern Ireland, describing it as a “major advance”.

However, he criticised the existing Lynx aircraft being used globally to carry it, claiming its “poor performance” hindered the use of the surveillance methods.

The Guardian newspaper first requested access to the letters in 2005, but successive governments blocked their disclosure.

Under Britain’s unwritten constitution, the monarch should remain politically neutral, and ministers had feared publication could damage the heir-to-the-throne.

However, in March, the supreme court agreed a gagging order imposed by the country’s former attorney general was unlawful and allowed the publication of the letters, nicknamed the “black spider memos” because of the prince’s scrawled handwriting, a decision prime minister David Cameron called “disappointing”.

There are no “black spider” letters among the batch released today.

The batch includes 10 letters that are typed by the prince, with a further 14 written by ministers and three letters between private secretaries.

The topics range from the state of farming, the regeneration of historic buildings, to healthy food.

Armagh Gaol

One of the prince’s letters was to Paul Murphy, secretary of state for Northern Ireland from 2002 to 2005, to discuss the future of Armagh Gaol.

A Clarence House spokesman said Charles intervened because he “has a long-standing interest in the role of the built environment in community building”.

He said the intervention came after the historic building had stood vacant for 20 years, and Charles offered the “help and expertise of his charities in order to find a new and practical solution to help save the site”.

Environment

In one letter to Mr Blair, the Prince of Wales described opponents of a badger cull as “intellectually dishonest” and advocated culling to tackle tuberculosis in cattle.

Writing in February 2005, Charles criticised the “badger lobby” for not caring about the slaughter of cattle that contract the disease but objecting to the killing of badgers.

He urged Mr Blair to “look again at introducing a proper cull of badgers where it is necessary”, warning that the rising number of cases of tuberculosis in cattle was the most pressing and urgent problem facing the agricultural sector.

“I, for one, cannot understand how the ‘badger lobby’ seem to mind not at all about the slaughter of thousands of expensive cattle, and yet object to a managed cull of an over-population of badgers - to me, this is intellectually dishonest,” he wrote.

The then-Labour government resisted pressure to launch a cull, although David Cameron’s coalition government did go ahead with one on a limited basis in 2013.

In another letter, to former agriculture secretary Elliot Morley, Charles expresses his support for efforts to rein in illegal fishing, and wonders whether the Royal Navy might be able to help.

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

In another note to Mr Blair, the prince asks the prime minister to put “pressure” on the department for environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA) over the bureaucratic burdens facing farmers.

Charles wrote in a lengthy letter dated September 8th, 2004: “Suffice it to say that any pressure which you can bring to bear on DEFRA through the Panel for Regulatory Accountability, which you told me you are chairing, would be much appreciated.

“Vigilance is essential to help officials resist returning to type!”

Education

The Prince of Wales exchanged correspondence with two Labour education secretaries, discussing healthy eating in schools and professional development for teachers.

The letters show some of Charles’s thoughts on schooling, revealing that he finds the idea that teachers should not impart knowledge but act as “coaches” “difficult to understand” and that he believed approaches to teaching and learning needed to be “challenged”.

In one, the prince begins by congratulating Ruth Kelly on being appointed education secretary, adding that he suspects “it may not be the easiest of tasks”, while in another he starts a report to her predecessor Charles Clarke by referring to himself as someone with “old-fashioned views (!)”.

There are five letters in total which discuss his Prince’s Education Summer Schools, an annual residential course established by the prince in 2002.

The two-page letter to Ms Kelly on her appointment says: “Despite having made substantial progress, as you may be aware I remain convinced that the current approaches to teaching and learning need to be challenged, something now acknowledged by some of the professional agencies themselves!

“The [Summer] Schools have, in my view, provided ample evidence that teachers themselves are more than willing to look again at what they do and consider whether they are doing the best they can.”

He later discusses how the success of the Summer Schools can be built upon and invites Ms Kelly to attend the next event, which she declines due to diary pressures.

There is also a letter on the subject of school nutrition. Written by Mr Clarke to the prince, it thanks Charles for a letter - which has not been released.

Mr Clarke writes: “I too have heard anecdotal evidence that children’s behaviour improves when they eat a healthy diet. There are, of course, other benefits too, as children who eat well are less likely to become obese, or suffer from problems with their health and development.”

The letter outlines how the government was working on ways to increase awareness of the benefits of having good food and drink in schools.

It also informs Charles that a healthy living action plan was due to be published, which would set out what schools could do to improve pupils’ attitudes to food, drink and exercise.

Heritage

The Prince of Wales also urged the Government to help fund the preservation of the huts used by Antarctic explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton a century earlier.

In a letter to then-culture secretary Tessa Jowell in March 2005, following a dinner with New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, he said that all the countries “connected to that heroic era of exploration” should contribute to preserving the huts in Antarctica

He acknowledged that funding for the restoration project posed difficulties for the culture department and the Heritage Lottery Fund, which could not fund projects overseas.

“But, on the other hand, I thought there was something called ‘The Government of the British Antarctic Territory’ which must mean there is some British territory to be ‘governed’!

“So I am at a loss to understand how this restoration project can be correctly described as ‘overseas’?”

“Whatever the case, and however futile my plea to you for a bit of imaginative flexibility in the interpretation of these rules, I just wanted to emphasise the iconic importance of these huts in those great Antarctic journeys, which will surely resonate strongly in the public imagination - particularly as the centenary of these famous explorers’ endeavours approaches.”

The prince said if there was nothing the department or the lottery fund could do, organisations, associations or wealthy individuals could be prevailed upon to help, adding that he would investigate the possibility himself.

Charles also intervened to try to save heritage closer to his home, calling for the General Market and Annex buildings at Smithfield Market, London, to be listed, in order to protect them.

Ms Jowell told Charles she had decided that part of the market, the Red House cold store building, would be given Grade II listed status.

The prince said he would “follow what ensues with the greatest possible interest”.

Fair trading

Charles also complained to Mr Blair about the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), writing: “Unfortunately, I am told that the Office of Fair Trading is becoming a serious obstacle to developing dairy cooperatives of the necessary size and influence.

“As I understand it, it sees the United Kingdom as ring-fenced, with the Channel acting as a barrier to imports, which is, of course, ridiculous.”

He added that Mr Blair had said he would look at the matter and “see if there was anything which could be done to help the OFT to take a wider view”.

Mr Blair, in his letter of response dated October 11th, 2004, reminds the prince of the OFT’s independence.

“Of course, as you recognise, they are rightly an independent body and I couldn’t influence them even if I wanted to,” the then-prime minister wrote.

Both Mr Blair and the heir-to-the-throne signed their letters to one another, “Yours ever”.

In February 2005, Charles also complained in a letter to Mr Blair about the “dominant position” of retailers and its effect on British farmers.

He welcomed proposals for a Buyers’ Charter and even suggested Mr Blair appoint a particular person, whose name was redacted before the publication of the letters, as an independent arbitrator of the body.

Herbal medicine

The correspondence also included letters sent to Tony Blair and former health secretary John Reid on the subject of herbal medicine.

In 2005, the Department of Health was considering regulation of herbal medicine and acupuncture, following a European directive.

Charles had a long-held belief that complementary approaches are an essential part of any healthcare system, as long as they are safely and effectively delivered, are based on evidence and are properly integrated with any conventional treatments. The prince even made a speech to the World Health Assembly on the theme.

Clarence House said that, along with many practitioners and patients, Charles was “keen to encourage the development of an appropriate regulatory regime with the dual purpose of preserving choice of practitioner and product, while also maximising patient safety”.

Mr Reid sent Charles a letter in February 2005 telling him that a consultation found there was “strong support” for statutory regulation of herbal medicine and acupuncture.

The Prince of Wales also described a European regulation to restrict practitioners of herbal medicine as like “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

Housing

Charles was keen to see that a decommissioned old Victorian asylum building in Sunderland, known as the Cherry Knowle site, be redeveloped for housing and to provide a new hospital and community facilities.

In 2004, his Prince’s Foundation came up with a vision of 800 homes and a new hospital at the site, but the following year plans stalled after the site was transferred to the English Partnerships agency.

The then-health secretary John Reid wrote to Charles in October 2004, saying “I would like to reassure you that we are keen to ensure this project moves ahead”, and again in January 2005 to update him on the progress.

However, on February 24th, 2005, Charles wrote back to vent his frustration about the lack of progress, saying: “I hope you will forgive my persistence on this issue but, despite your helpful updates, the log-jam to which I referred in my letter of last August shows little sign of alleviation and it saddens me greatly to think that the immense progress and collective enthusiasm gathered 12 months ago is now in danger of being lost.”

“The continuing hiatus seems to be due in no small part to the protracted negotiations undertaken as part of the residual estate transfer to the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister).

“I can’t help thinking that transferring this task to another government department risks the introduction of further complexities and delays and will inevitably undermine the health vision as other priorities take precedence over time.”

In a reply to Charles in March 2005, Mr Reid said: “I can assure you that I take the matter of the Cherry Knowle Development very seriously, and am hopeful that it will provide a model for future such collaborations”.

Patricia Hewitt

In another series of letters, from 2004, Patricia Hewitt, then secretary of state for trade and industry, tells the prince how she met Robin Boles, chief executive of the charity In Kind Direct, which was set up by Charles.

In the letters, the Labour minister said she could not help by giving funding directly to In Kind Direct, which redistributes surplus goods from manufacturers and retailers to charities, but said she would try to assist it by introducing it to other public sector bodies and government colleagues.

Ms Hewitt suggested In Kind Direct apply to the South East of England Development Agency for funding, which it did. The charity was subsequently turned down.

According to the letter, she also alerted a government initiative called Corporate Challenge to the work of the charity, which was founded to increase corporate support for community organisations.

Charles wrote back to Ms Hewitt the following month, thanking her for her efforts and saying the government’s Corporate Challenge programme goes to “the very heart” of what he was trying to achieve.

Towards the end of the letter, the prince said if there was no success with the Corporate Challenge team, the minister may be hearing from him again.

Letters defended

The Prince of Wales defended his decision to write the series of letters to government ministers.

A Clarence House spokesman said: “The publication of private letters can only inhibit his ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings.”

“The Prince of Wales is raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues.”

It is understood that the prince is “disappointed” that the confidentiality principle was not maintained.

The prince made a joke about the freedom of information act - the very legislation which enabled the publication of his correspondence - in one of his notes to Mr Blair.

In a letter dated February 24th, 2005, Charles said: “It was very good to see you again the other day and, as usual, I much enjoyed the opportunity to talk about a number of issues.

“You kindly suggested that it would be helpful if I put them in writing - despite the freedom of information act!”

Reuters and PA