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 Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow 12:00 am, 15th July 1952

There has been a very remarkable change in the tone of this debate as compared with that which took place last week on the Report of the Select Committee. Those of us who criticised that Report were then told quite definitely and conclusively that we represented nobody but ourselves; that there was no volume of opinion for whom we were speaking and that we were merely the odd few out. This afternoon the opposite charge has been made. We have been accused of playing to the gallery. In other words, if we criticise the Civil List we are doing it for the sake of popularity. People who make charges of that kind are probably most insincere themselves and, being insincere, they accuse everybody else of being the same.

It is not a question of being anti-Royalty. It is not a question of having bitterness or animosity towards the Royal Family. But at the present time we are told that we face the most serious economic crisis that we have ever known, and it is a question whether, at a time when our people are being asked to make sacrifices, they should not be given a lead from the top and whether some cutting down in the expenditure entailed in this Bill might not well be undertaken without in any way impairing the opportunity of the Royal Family to live the useful and dignified lives that we all want them to live.

My right hon. Friend who proposed the Amendment on behalf of the Opposition asked us to disregard the newspaper reports and comments. He said that he hoped that nobody would give any consideration to the story of the bottle of whisky which was supposed to be put on the tray every night and, although it was never opened, disappeared and nobody knew where it went; but if a bottle of whisky did disappear every night it would mean that only 365 disappeared in the year. At £2 a bottle that would be just over £700, and yet I see that £6,502 was spent in the Royal cellar last year. I do not know whether that represents the amount of liquor consumed in the Royal Palaces or whether it includes wages and various other items, but I should like to know because it would appear that if the sum of £6,500 a year is being spent in the Royal cellars there is room for a little economy there.

If it is true that this country is in a terrible economic plight, it is very necessary that in the immediate months and years that lie ahead those who advise the Royal Family and arrange their tours should have some regard to what the people are feeling and thinking. When the late King—whom we all very much loved and respected—was going on a tour with the present Queen Mother it was decided that a ship had to be converted for them. The ship was the "Gothic," and tens of thousands of pounds were spent on putting a ship which was already a sailing mansion into what might be termed a Royal mansion. I met some of the men who were working on that ship, and I know what were their comments.

I do not believe that the late King or the present Queen Mother wanted that. I do not believe that the present Queen would want that. I am quite sure that the Royal Family would like to be treated as human beings instead of angels. But, of course, they are surrounded by a lot of people who have never changed, who are still living back in the centuries past and who do not realise that we are now a modern democracy and that the respect which the Queen and the Royal Family have today is a respect out of love and admiration and not out of fear of what the Royal Family might do, as was the case in days gone by.

It has been said today that this Civil List of £475,000 is misunderstood and that people do not understand how far the money has to go or the number of expenses and the types of expenditure which have to be made; but, of course, what people do understand is this—that constantly they are finding it more difficult to make ends meet, and that the ordinary people of this country, upon whom we shall have to depend more and more if we are to overcome the economic crisis, are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet. When anyone talks in terms of thousands or tens of thousands of pounds, the ordinary people cannot understand why it is that they should have to sacrifice at a time when lavish and extravagant expenditure of this kind is being sanctioned.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said, it does not stop at £475,000. There is the other £70,000 and £30,000 and £10,000, and, of course, additional money will be involved by the Bill with each child that is born to the present Queen. That is something which the ordinary people just cannot understand. They cannot understand why, when every baby comes along, it must mean another £10,000 and why, when the child eventually marries, it must be another £25,000. Those are astronomical figures to ordinary working people, and I do not believe the ordinary working people who may criticise them are in any way being disrespectful or disloyal to the Royal Family.

In conclusion, I do not believe, and nothing will ever convince me, that the Royal Family would lose anything of the love and affection which there is for them if we now decided that, because of the changed times in which we are living, it is necessary that the lives of the Royal Family should be brought more in keeping with those of the vast majority of the people over whom they reign. I think such a change would endear the Monarchy to the people.

The Monarchy disappeared in many countries largely because it was far removed from the lives of the people over whom it reigned. None of us would like that to happen here, and I do not think it can happen here; but I am certain it could never happen if, because of the change through the centuries, from being an autocracy in this country, from being a country in which class divisions were very pronounced, to a modern democracy with class divisions becoming less and less, we decided that it would be helpful and beneficial if there were a fundamental change in the lives of the Royal Family. For that reason I want to support the Amendment, which asks that there should be a review every 10 years.