The Government has asked King Charles for permission to bring in its “world-leading” Environment Act after Brexit because laws requiring landowners to improve conservation could affect its business interests.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow wrote to the then Prince of Wales in 2019 to ask if he would accept section seven of the draft Environment Bill, which became law in November 2021.
It refers to the need “to preserve the environment of land with a natural environment or natural resources or which is a place of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historical interest”. Those who violate conservation agreements may be subject to fines.
When the bill became law, ministers hailed it as a boon for post-Brexit Britain. Then Environment Minister George Eustace said: “We are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.”
However, the government then missed its statutory deadline for setting what it called “ambitious” targets for the Environment Act. When they did appear, months late, conservation charities said the targets for nature, clean air and water were unsustainable and would not deliver the promised environmental benefits by 2030.
In the letters, published on Saturday and sent in October 2019, Pow informed Charles: “This Bill contains conservation treaty measures which affect the interests of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall. Part 7 (conservation conventions) of the Act applies to Crown land as it applies to any other land.”
These conservation covenants are new agreements between the government and landowners in certain biodiverse and nationally significant areas that require the landowner not to undertake certain environmentally destructive or polluting activities.
The letters show that the Prince’s private secretary, Clive Alderton, replied to Pow giving his consent to the bill, confirming that he was “satisfied with the bill”.
The Duchy of Cornwall brings in around £21 million a year for the Duke and his family. Income from the estate is passed on to the Prince of Wales, now Charles’ son William, who uses it to fund his public, charitable and private activities. The Duchy consists of approximately 53,000 hectares (130,000 acres) of land in 23 counties, most of it in South West England, and many Areas of Natural Beauty and Significance which are affected by environmental protection objectives.
Charles had already meddled in government affairs when it threatened to affect his affairs. Last year, Guard revealed he had used the controversial procedure to force ministers in John Major’s 1992 government to secretly change proposed legislation to benefit his landed estates.
Under the procedure, the late queen and her eldest son were given copies of the draft legislation in advance so they could examine whether the laws affected their public powers or private assets, such as his estate in the Duchy of Cornwall or the privately owned Sandringham estate. This procedure is different from the more familiar royal assent – the formality that makes a bill become law.
The Starateljeva Queen’s consent investigations have revealed that the late monarch used the procedure in recent decades to privately lobby for change. During her reign, ministers had to secure her or her son’s consent to more than 1,000 acts of parliament before they were implemented. They include a tenancy reform bill that became law in 1993, when there was evidence that Charles pressured elected ministers to secure an exemption to prevent his tenants from being eligible to buy their own homes.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs declined to comment. Buckingham Palace has been contacted for comment.