Former Labour minister says she welcomed contribution of heir to throne on New Deal policy, and engaged in correspondence.
Prince Charles communicated directly with a senior Labour cabinet minister to explicitly identify what he believed were gaps in public policy, and the government took his views into consideration, the Guardian has learned.
The prince held meetings and corresponded with Tessa Jowell, then culture secretary, about an issue close to his heart: a perceived lack of traditional skills such as stone masonry and hedge laying.
Jowell said on Wednesday: “He was drawing my attention to gaps in provision of apprenticeships in order to renew the skilled rural workforce.”
She said she had agreed with Charles on the matter and that his contributions “added to” discussions within government about aiming a strand of the New Deal policy at young people in rural areas where jobs were hard to come by and traditional countryside skills were dying out.
Jowell said she welcomed the discussions and stressed: “Never did he seek to bring undue pressure to bear on any policy but he correctly identified areas for potential new developments.”
Her account of the prince’s lobbying follows the decision on Tuesday by the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, to veto the publication of 27 letters between the heir to the throne and ministers responsible for education, business, the environment, the NHS and Northern Ireland.
Charles has acknowledged he is known as the “meddling prince” but Grieve said his decision to veto the release was based on his view “that the correspondence was undertaken as part of the Prince of Wales’ preparation for becoming king”.
The Guardian has for seven years been seeking the release, under the Freedom of Information Act, of correspondence between Charles and senior government ministers.
Grieve said that any perception that Charles was disagreeing with government policy arising from the publication of those letters “would be seriously damaging to his role as future monarch, because if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne he cannot easily recover it when he is king”.
Jowell was one of the ministers consulted on Grieve’s decision and she said she agreed with keeping the correspondence private and declined to comment on what it contained in her case. Speaking generally, she said she had regular meetings and correspondence with Charles, dealing with three topics: rural skills and unemployment, his drawing school in east London, and the role he could play in helping the bereaved families of terrorist atrocities such as the 11 September 2001 attacks on America in which 68 British citizens died.
“The most you could say is he contributed to a consideration,” she said. “Never did he seek to bring undue pressure to bear on any policy but he correctly identified areas for potential new developments. Nothing he ever did was seeking to assert pressure on me and he always went out of his way to make it clear that there was no pressure.”
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, was also consulted by the government ahead of Grieve’s decision but his spokesman declined to comment on whether or not he supported the move.
Ruth Kelly, who was Labour education secretary at the time Charles wrote letters to her department, declined to comment on whether she was consulted or if she supported the veto.
The veto prompted Republic, the pressure group campaigning for an elected head of state, to launch a new campaign for changes to the Freedom of Information Act “that will allow the royals to be held accountable for their interference”.
“Grieve has said this is about protecting Prince Charles’s impartiality but that impartiality doesn’t exist,” said Graham Smith, Republic’s director. “Charles has made that clear. This decision is about pretending Charles is impartial while he continues to lobby in favour of his own political agenda. If Grieve believes Charles to be impartial then let him prove it by allowing the release of these documents.”