Orders of the Day — Civil List Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th July 1952.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 15th July 1952

We must keep in the front of our minds the present economic situation. Only yesterday the Government were asking us to economise to the extent of £30,000. In that debate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) said that the House was in much the same position as a limited liability company which was on the rocks, and another hon. Member said that this was a bankrupt country and that this fact should stand above all other considerations. In the same debate we had the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) telling us: Unless we can save this country generally from the certain ruin which faces us unless we balance our economy, it will be idle to talk of water colours and armouries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 1857.] We should surely keep in our minds these warnings from the Government benches about bankruptcy and ruin, but it is from these benches, and not from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we are getting demands for economy and for very careful, meticulous consideration of our financial resources.

I did not agree with the statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich that there were so many stories about Royalty in the newspapers that there was a great deal of misunderstanding and that the people had the impression that these bills were larger than they really were. I suggest that there are barnacles on this particular boat and that there are a large number of officials whose duties should be inquired into and which was not done by the Select Committee.

The Committee could examine persons who came voluntarily, but there was not the remittal to the Committee which applies to the usual Select Committee whose duty is to examine accounts. They had not power to send for persons and call for papers. All they had to do was to examine the evidence of a small number of court functionaries whose particular concern was to keep their own jobs. If we had a real Select Committee empowered to call people—a Committee composed of people who were determined to find out exactly how much money was being spent, and how—we would have an entirely different report.

I want to make the same suggestion that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury made at the conclusion of yesterday's debate, when he referred to the Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury whose duty was to examine the expenditure on museums and art galleries. I suggest that the O. and M. Division of the Treasury should turn their attention to the expenditure in the Civil List with the object of making very necessary economies. We should not disguise the fact that altogether the bill for Royalty in this country is a very formidable one. It is not confined to the Civil List Vote. There is on the Ministry of Works Vote a further bill for £411,000.

There are all kinds of items which are not included in this Civil List. There is the sum of £475,000 for the Queen's establishment. There is the sum of £30,000 extra for the Duke of Edinburgh. There is the sum of £411,000 for the Royal Parks, which is not considered on this particular Vote. There are the items in the previous Civil List—£70,000 for Queen Mary, a further £70,000 for the Queen Mother, and £35,000 for the Duke of Gloucester. I estimate that altogether there is a formidable bill of £1,091,000 for Royalty at the present time, which is a very big bill. When hon. Members talk about cheeseparing I would say that this is a very expensive cheese and it needs further examination.

Certain remarks have been made about the way the Press treats Royalty. Royalty has every reason to protest against the shameless sensationalism which floods the Press on every possible occasion. But it should be taken into account that in the Royal Household there is a quite well paid Press department, which uses its office on every possible occasion for unnecessarily boosting and vulgarising Royalty. I think that substantial economies could be effected if a Select Committee were to turn its attention to the Press department. Do we need a very well paid Press secretary? Do we need an assistant press secretary and four clerks, including another Press clerk?

I suggest that there is a tendency to overdo Royalty and to boost it on every possible occasion in a way which makes a large section of the people believe that Monarchy is being kept in existence not for the services which it renders but because it is an institution with a precedent, a tradition and a routine, which is fostered by the people who want tradition and routine because they believe that it symbolises the ownership of land and of privilege in a capitalist and landed society.

I believe that the views I am expressing are more prevalent than hon. Gentlemen opposite think. There are probably some people who would be horrified—as were the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) and the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer—at my casual suggestion, which I threw out just at a chance moment in the debate, that some of these Royal residences could be converted into flats. Though they might be very uncomfortable and antiquated, and some of the rooms might not have the latest modern conveniences, they would help to rehouse temporarily some of the thousands and thousands of married couples who will not have any houses for another 25 years if the present Government do not improve their building programme. That opinion is far more prevalent and accepted in the country outside than it is in this House.

I shall support the Amendment, and I hope that during the Committee stage we shall be able to impress upon the House the fact that we are standing for the British taxpayer against the profligates and spendthrifts, and that we want the whole question of these residences to be viewed in its proper perspective. If we do so I believe that we shall have a large volume of public opinion solidly behind us.