Clause 7 — Review by Royal Trustees of Sovereign Grant

Bill Presented — Cycles (protective Headgear for Children) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 14th July 2011.

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Votes in this debate

Manuscript a mendment proposed: A, page 6, line 7, leave out ‘7’ and insert ‘4’.—(M r George Osborne.)

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 6, page 6, line 7, leave out ‘7 years’ and insert ‘3 years’.

Government manuscript amendment B.

Amendment 7, page 6, line 8, leave out ‘7 years’ and insert ‘5 years’.

Amendment 8, page 6, line 8, at end add—

‘(6) The Trustees shall also review the percentage for the time being specified in Step 1 of section 6(1) as soon as practicable if, over the financial year immediately preceding the base year, the income account net surplus of the Crown Estate increased by more than the trend rate of GDP growth.

(7) In subsection (6), “the trend rate of GDP growth” means the estimate of the trend rate of GDP growth most recently published by the Office for Budget Responsibility which is applicable to that year.

(8) Subsections (2) to (4) shall also apply to a review carried out under subsection (6).’.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I wish to speak briefly to amendment 8. This would introduce a check on potential future rises in income from the Crown Estate. At a time when Departments and the public generally are having to take very difficult decisions to make their limited budgets cover the essentials, we should at least apply careful analysis to what sort of income the 15% figure would bring in for the royal household over future years. I would appreciate any information Ministers have on forecasts for the sovereign grant over the coming years, particularly regarding this spending review period.

We are very short of time, but I shall press on with the issue of meeting the royal household’s needs. When I met the Economic Secretary yesterday—I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her and the Bill team—we had a discussion about the fact that the civil list has not adequately reflected the needs of the royal family in the past. At one point, it was being paid too much money and amassed significant reserves; then, it was not paid enough to meet its needs and had to draw down on the reserves. I appreciate that the current formula may not be appropriate, but a formula fixed to income on the basis of something like the Crown Estate is not necessarily any more likely to meet royal spending needs.

In 2010-11, the Crown Estate profits were £230.9 million. If the new mechanism were already in use, that would mean a grant in two years’ time of £34.7 million. Instead, the 2012-13 grant has been set at £31 million in recognition that 15% would not be appropriate or proportionate. This is why we are asking the Government to consider a more flexible mechanism in future.

When the Chancellor spoke in the preliminary debate the other week, he said that the grant to the royal family should reflect generally how well the economy is doing. The particular concern we have—it has been touched on already—is that the Crown Estate includes investment in offshore wind, particularly the new wind-power projects that are coming on board. I think the chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association said that the carbon capture and storage industry is likely to be very big in the future, probably measured in trillions of dollars. We think that could have an impact on the accounts, too.

We were grateful for the Chancellor’s assurances during the debate on the funding resolution that we will not allow revenues from offshore wind to lead to a disproportionate rise in revenues for the royal household. I would be grateful for any further information about what safeguards could be put in place.

Amendment 8 would help. It would limit disproportionate increases to the royal household. I welcome the fact that the Government have tabled manuscript amendments in response to our amendments which would provide an earlier review period. As the Bill was originally drafted, the first review of the new arrangement would not have taken place for seven years and there would then have been a review every seven years after that. We thought that the first review should take place within three years and that subsequent reviews should take place every five years. We have listened to what the Government had to say about three years being unfortunate in that it would coincide with the next general election. We are happy to accept the Government manuscript amendments that the first review should be four years and subsequent reviews every five years. We do think, however, that there should be another mechanism to address the fact that no cap is in force. There is a cap on the reserves, but there is no cap on the potential increases that the 15% figure, linked to the income of the Crown Estate, could generate.

I shall skim over much of what else I was going to say, but we think it important to have some upward cap. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister or the Chancellor have to say in response.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer

As was acknowledged by the shadow Chancellor, we have taken on board what I consider to be the most significant amendments in tabling our own manuscript amendments. There will now be a review in 2016, and there will be a review every five years after that. If the House accepts our amendments we shall be able to prevent some windfall from offshore renewable energy from not being taken into account before it comes about. We will have a chance to do that in 2016, and that is partly because we have accepted the Opposition’s amendments.

I have already dealt to some extent with the point raised by the shadow Chancellor, and by amendment 8, about whether some other mechanism is needed. A fair number of checks are already in place. If the grant turns out to be more than the royal household needs—and the assessment of need will be checked by the National Audit Office—it will go into a reserve. If the reserve hits 50% of the grant, the trustees will step in and reduce the amount of money coming in. They will turn down the taps. That is a sensible mechanism, and it means that we will not be having an annual debate in the House about royal finances, entertaining though the last few hours have been.

Kerry McCarthy specifically asked why the figure for 2012-13 was £31 million. In a sense, that question lies at the heart of the issue. I accept that this is a complicated concept. The royal family have been relying on grants from Parliament—either the civil list or the royal travel or royal palaces grant—and supplementing them with a reserve which has been built up, with the use of public money, in the last decade or two. In 2012-13 the royal family will get the £31 million, but they will also expect to draw on the last of the reserve that was built up in the 1990s and 2000s. They will, in effect, receive more than £1 million from public money—money raised through taxation—because they will be using the last of that reserve.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

When I said that there would be a 3.2% real-terms rise from next year until the end of the Parliament, I did not mean a rise in the grant; I meant a rise in total expenditure. Total expenditure in 2012-13 will be £33 million and will rise to £35.5 million, which, in 2010-11 prices, is a rise from £31.3 million to £31.9 million. Although the Chancellor has made an important historic point about the reserves, the 3.2% real-terms is not driven by the reserves: it is merely an overall rise in total expenditure. I do not think that the Chancellor was entirely right on that point.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer

The point I was making was that, although there are lumpy movements in individual years—in 2010-11, for various reasons, some capital works were delayed and will be undertaken next year—the average of £34 million, which was £37 million two years ago, amounts in effect to a cash freeze and a real-terms reduction.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer

Over the Parliament. But the point is that it strikes the right balance between too much and too little.

I think that the checks are adequate, and for that reason, although I have accepted a couple of the Opposition’s amendments, I do not wish to accept amendment 8.

Manuscript amendment A agreed to.

Manuscript amendment made: B, page 6, line 8, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

‘(b) every period of 5 years beginning at the end of another review period.’—(Mr George Osborne.)

Amendment proposed: 8, page 6, line 8, at end add—

‘(6) The Trustees shall also review the percentage for the time being specified in Step 1 of section 6(1) as soon as practicable if, over the financial year immediately preceding the base year, the income account net surplus of the Crown Estate increased by more than the trend rate of GDP growth.

(7) In subsection (6), “the trend rate of GDP growth” means the estimate of the trend rate of GDP growth most recently published by the Office for Budget Responsibility which is applicable to that year.

(8) Subsections (2) to (4) shall also apply to a review carried out under subsection (6).’.—(Ed Balls.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 148, Noes 241.

Division number 327 Bill Presented — Cycles (protective Headgear for Children) Bill — Clause 7 — Review by Royal Trustees of Sovereign Grant

Aye: 148 MPs

No: 241 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Proceedings interrupted (Order, this day).

The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, this day).

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 to 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill, as amended, reported.

Bill, as amended in the Committee, considered.

Third Reading

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer 5:10 pm, 14th July 2011

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I shall be brief. I want to thank the House for the two days of debate and for the scrutiny and entertainment that has been provided. We have discussed chocolate biscuits, Tupperware, secret treaties and what Mr Skinner said in 1971, the year in which I was born. I particularly want to thank various participants, such as Paul Flynn, the hon. Member for Glasgow South

West (Mr Davidson), who is not in his place, and my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). They all showed a passionate interest in this subject and knew what they were talking about. They argued from different points of view but helped to enlighten the debate.

Of course, it is not just Ministers and the Chancellor who do the work on such legislation. An official team at the Treasury have been working on it for more than a year and I want to thank them for their hard work. I thank the royal household for its engagement as well as Alan Reid, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, with whom I have been liaising throughout. We have got the balance right between providing the funds to allow the monarch and her family to do their official duties with dignity and the kind of support we would expect for our Head of State while at the same time providing checks and balances on how that money is spent and allowing Parliament to scrutinise those resources for the first time. I suspect that such scrutiny would have been unthinkable decades ago.

Many people have referred to the fact that in 1760 the arrangement was put in place whereby the revenues from the Crown Estate were handed over for the lifetime of the monarch in return for a parliamentary grant. I do not know whether the arrangements in the Bill will last for 250 years—that is probably a bit ambitious—but I hope they last for many years and decades to come. That might mean that the House will miss the entertaining debates we have had over two days, but it will also ensure that our monarchy is properly funded, that it is above the annual political fray and that it can get on with doing what it does so well: representing our country and being our Head of State.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 5:12 pm, 14th July 2011

I echo the Chancellor’s thanks to Members on both sides of the House for the way in which they have participated in the debate. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends for the way in which they have helped us play the Opposition’s proper role in scrutinising such legislation. There have been many historical references and when we look back to the last serious debate in Parliament, in 1971, we can see that the tone of those debates was very different from that of our debates today and a fortnight ago. That shows that there have been many changes since the early 1970s, including more pressure on and exposure for the monarchy, as well as an unprecedented degree of international exposure. The consensus on the role of the monarchy in our constitution and in our country is stronger now than it was during the previous debate, which has been shown by the speeches from both sides of the House as we have scrutinised the Bill. I thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for being willing to brief us and to be involved in serious discussions that have led to changes in the legislation. The manuscript amendments that he was willing to table following our suggested amendments were welcome.

The change will lead to an unprecedented increase in the scrutiny of the royal household by the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and Parliament. As the Chancellor has said, that is a good thing in building further trust and support for the monarchy in our country. Obviously, I regret the fact that we did not manage to get agreement on our trigger mechanism if revenues from the Crown Estate rise rapidly in coming years, but there are measures, checks and balances in the legislation to make sure that we can properly do our job as parliamentarians in ensuring that money is well spent but also that the monarchy is properly financed.

Let me conclude by saying it is of great regret that the—oh, he is still here. For a second, I feared that Jacob Rees-Mogg had left and I wanted to thank him for his contributions to the debates. It is an open question whether the financial settlement for the Crown Estate that the Chancellor generously set out will make affordable the finest horses and the gold-gilt carriages that the hon. Gentleman called for in the debate a fortnight ago as befitting Her Majesty. However, I assure him that it will certainly be enough to pay for Bath Oliver biscuits with chocolate on the outside; there is no doubt about that. His contributions have been welcome. As I said, this has been an important debate about history as well as the future and it is good to have present an hon. Member who has a great grasp of that history. Indeed, some of us sometimes think he might have been there in 1760—more in style than in substance. We thank him and all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. The job of scrutinising these matters now starts for Parliament and I thank the Chancellor for helping us to ensure that that will be done properly in the years to come.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central 5:16 pm, 14th July 2011

In Committee, Mr Leigh said that the monarchy was a fragile institution, but I beg to differ. The monarchy has shown itself to be a very powerful and strong institution, lasting over the centuries. If the British state was beginning again, we probably would not start by creating a monarchy: it is irrational, inequitable, inherently sexist, myopic and averse to many of the principles of progressive politics and the social democratic future that we on the left hold dear. However, we are where we are and there is no enthusiasm for dismantling the monarchy.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

Among the public as a whole.

We in opposition should be brave and confident enough to think about some of the monarchy’s strengths, which is partly what the Bill is about ensuring. First, the monarchy gives a broader notion of citizenship. We on the left often get in a lather about being subjects rather than citizens and whether that holds back our politics, but the virtue of the monarchy is that it creates a notion of citizenship that is not necessarily linked to ethnicity. It is not a blood-and-soil notion of citizenship. The political scientist John Gray put it rather well when he wrote:

“The monarchical constitution we have today—a mix of antique survivals and postmodern soap opera—may be absurd, but it enables a diverse society to rub along without too much friction.”

It also points to a wonderful thing about Britain—that we have no purpose in the world, unlike the great republics of France, America or Italy, where there is an endpoint, or telos, to do with happiness or improving equality. Britain has no ultimate endpoint and monarchy is part of that.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

My hon. Friend has demonstrated that he has a far superior knowledge of history than perhaps any other Member of the House who was not actually there during large sections of it. Does he agree that the histories of the United States and France are histories of violent revolution, whereas we have had a period of stable evolution, apart from a dark period in the 1650s and so on, largely because we have had a constitutional monarchy?

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I take my hon. Friend’s point, but we should not over-emphasise our Whiggish stability over the years. We often used to think of the 18th century as the age of equipoise and stability. In fact, underneath that monarchy, all sorts of revolutionary fervour was going on. The campaign of my hon. Friend Paul Flynn to have the Chartists properly recognised in the House hints at a slightly different history. It is a source of great sadness to many people that, although the House was rebuilt in the 1830s and ’40s, it took until mid-1890s for the statue of Cromwell to appear outside.

For all its narrow, Eurocentric and white family structure, the royal family also has a curious internationalist sensibility, for to understand the British royal family in the 19th and 20th centuries is to understand empire and the nature of Britain in the world. As we have heard today in respect of reforming the Act of Settlement, the monarch was also monarch of imperial nations across the world, then the British Commonwealth and then the Commonwealth. That points to the unique nature of Britain: its openness and sense of citizenship, which is, again, above and beyond blood and soil. Part of the strength of monarchy is that it speaks to the multicultural, multi-faith age in which we live. There is a curious modernity about the nature of monarchy, which, again, keeps its strength going.

The real virtue of the royal family today is the soft power embodied within it. We have heard, quite rightly, detailed discussions about £35 million or £37 million costs this afternoon, but the royal family as a brand vehicle for Britishness is worth huge sums more than £35 million or £37 million. The sums regained from the world’s media focus on London during the royal wedding recently were far in excess of its cost. Although our beloved former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, used to describe Britain as a young country, it is, in fact, a very old country.

D

This is a very London-centric view. The sums accrued from the worlds media will only benefit London. Those in Stoke-on-Trent, for example, pay their way for the royal family but gain no financial benefit.

Submitted by Dystokia, Longton

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but does he agree that that is the reason why we do not need a new, written constitution? We have gradually evolved as a country. Other countries look at us and at Parliament—the mother of all Parliaments—because we have been through a great, long history. We have managed to achieve something. We stand for things in the world. We stand for democracy, freedom of speech, common law and the rule of law, whereby this country has made the sort of decisions that it has over the past few days.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but he knows far better than I do that, of course, in the quote about the mother of Parliaments, John Bright was referring to the whole country, rather than to Parliament. The hon. Gentleman points to the dangers of a written constitution, although my hon. Friend Mr Allen would vehemently disagree and do so in quite some detail if pressed.

Part of our strength as an old country is connected to the royal family and monarchy, which has taken different forms over the years. We have in this country a natural resource in history. As other nations have oil and diamonds, we have the past, and we need to use it as a source of leverage in the world.

In addition to soft power, the royal family also brings hard currency. I am privileged to represent Stoke-on-Trent, where the Chancellor will soon visit many successful businesses in the area. Many ceramics companies in my constituency have enjoyed record profits on the back of the royal wedding. The profits of Bridgewater, Portmeirion and Hudson and Middleton show that the ceramics industry is booming on the back of the royal wedding.

According to VisitBritain spokesman, Paul Eastham,

“Our culture and heritage reputation is very strong around the world. At the heart of that lies monarchy.”

Many historians and I would disagree that the nature of Britain is innately bound up with monarchy, but we should not kid ourselves about the fact that, as the success of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Canada and California has shown, it brings remarkable attention to Britain. I was involved in constituency business in Australia at the time of the royal visit to Canada and California, but the media attention focused on that young couple—and another great global icon, Ms Kate Moss—from right around the world was remarkable.

There is a job to be done, and many members of the royal family do it very well. We come to the tricky question of financing it. I share my Front Benchers’ concerns about making sure that we have a proper vehicle to ensure that excessive profits and marked changes in the amount of money flowing to the royal family are properly looked after. I, too, still have questions about the shared ownership of assets when it comes to the royal family. I also share concerns about security costs. We in Stoke-on-Trent were greatly privileged to have a visit by the Earl of Wessex recently, but I have to say that I thought that the security costs and the entourage involved were not wholly necessary.

On timetabling, the move from seven to five years is quite right. When we return to government in the imminent future and return, hopefully, to four-year Parliaments, that period can go down to four years from five years, to reflect the length of a Parliament.

The Chancellor has come up with the least worst option for financing the royal family. As the hon. Member for Gainsborough suggested, the royal palaces are in real danger of decay. Many of them have not had the infrastructure investment that they demand, and demands on their fabric will grow. As part of the quid pro quo of the settlement, we need from the royal family further opening-up of some of the royal palaces, and we need to think more creatively about the art collection held by Her Majesty. We need to continue bearing down on costs, and we need the kind of public accountability and audit that the Bill brings to bear.

The Chancellor and shadow Chancellor spoke of the language of utility and satisfaction, in terms of the relationship between Parliament and monarchy, and this settlement sets us on that road.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North 5:27 pm, 14th July 2011

I am delighted to follow Tristram Hunt, who is clearly a royalist, and who is a founding member of the all-party parliamentary group on the Queen’s diamond jubilee, and I congratulate him on that.

It is easy to try to put a price on monarchy, as I think the hon. Gentleman was saying. Of course, to a certain extent, one has to do that especially in such a debate as this, but the monarchy, personified so ably by our sovereign, is not bounded by monetary value; it is about honour, nobility of conduct, its historical nature, and an institution of which we can all be proud. If we look in some detail at the mischief that the Bill is trying to redress, the finances of the royal household, designed to support Her Majesty, are currently overly complex. There are no fewer than four grants, which are themselves hidebound and bureaucratic. They have a tendency to be inflexible in that if there is a depletion of one grant, there cannot be a transfer from the other grants to fill the gap. Consequently, the system clearly does not work. That, in and of itself, irrespective of one’s ideological views about monarchy as an institution, needs to be redressed.

However, it goes deeper than that, because the sums of money we are talking about—approximately £35 million—are, in governmental terms, de minimis. They are miniscule. I dare say that this area of expenditure is more scrutinised, deeply analysed and debated in various forums, including this House, than other areas of the public finances, where hundred of millions, or even billions, of pounds are spent, so there is no shortage of scrutiny whatsoever. It is clear that for the first time since the early 1970s Parliament is looking at a proper modernisation of the finances of the royal household and the monarchy.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

The hon. Gentleman refers to the level of scrutiny that the household finances receive, but this debate will last less than three hours. Does he not think that that is a flaw?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I think one can tell from the number of Members in the Chamber that the matter has been debated perfectly clearly.

The Crown Estate is the property of the sovereign and is in the right of the Crown. In the generations since George III’s accession in 1760, successive Governments have gone to the sovereign of the day and asked, “May we have the proceeds from the Crown Estate?” All sovereigns since, including George IV, William VI and so on, have signed away those rights. However, from a legal perspective, the fact that the application has been made and the request granted on each occasion perhaps indicates how the law would look at the matter. It seems clear to me that the revenue is surrendered to the Exchequer and that the legal implication of that act of surrender is that the revenue belongs to the Crown.

The sovereign grant is normally set as equal to 15% of the profit from the Crown Estate, as has already been alluded to. It could be argued that that is sufficient, but it is not over-generous, and no one could reasonably argue that it is disproportionate to the affairs of the Crown. If one takes the care to look at where Crown expenditure actually goes, one will see that much of it goes back to general public usage. For example, most of the communications allowance is spent on writing paper, stationary and clerical costs for responding to items of correspondence received by the royal household. With regard to entertainment costs, tens of thousands of British subjects receive hospitality at garden parties, for example, so costs are incurred in that way.

The royal palaces account for a huge part of royal expenditure. If we did not have a royal family, it is reasonably safe to assume that we would retain the palaces—one would hope that they would not be knocked down to build car parks—and consequently there would be museums that would need to be maintained, although no doubt few people would visit them. The roofs would still need to be fixed and leaks repaired, so the Exchequer would not save. When one takes the care to look at the expenditure, one will see that it is extremely modest and, as has been alluded to, extremely impressive savings have been made over the past couple of years.

The current system is inflexible, overly bureaucratic and has not been as transparent as it could have been. One cannot rationalise romance, and I take the point made by my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg and others that the institution of the monarchy is about more than just money, but one must bear in mind that although the monarchy is an emotionally unifying institution and, in my view, crucial to the success of this state, it is also susceptible to proper analysis of its finances, which is what the Bill will do. Consequently, I give it my full support.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales) 5:35 pm, 14th July 2011

I have a series of concerns with the Bill. First, it creates an artificial link between the profits from an estate given up by the royal family in 1760 and an amount required to carry their official duties in the present day. My major concern is with the escalator process that is put in place, whereby the amount that is received each year will be the same as or greater than that of the previous financial year, either through the floor introduced in the Bill or because 15% of the Crown Estate’s profits is greater than the floor. I am disappointed that the Opposition amendment on that was defeated in Committee.

There are curious oddities in the Bill. Why is there a need to round up the Crown Estate’s profit to the nearest £100,000? Why round it upwards and not downwards? Why round it up at all? The profit of the Crown Estate is a red herring. There is no link between the successful organisation of the estate’s affairs and the amount received by the royal family. This is not a business arrangement. I recognise that there are arguments that the royal family should receive a lump sum and be able to transfer funds for better use. I also recognise the argument that the money provided is given for a specific purpose. However, if it is not being used for that purpose, on what grounds is that amount of funding being given?

As many Members have said, there should be a regular needs-based analysis of the royal family’s expenditure, with grants provided accordingly. Having said that, I like the idea of a reserve fund for money that is not used. This sounds like the end-of-year flexibility that the Welsh Government set up under Plaid Cymru a few years ago, only for the Treasury to steal back

£400 million earlier in the year. I look forward to the day when the Treasury follows the same pursuit in taking back money allocated to the royal family.

The Crown Estate, which is a key part of the Bill, is owned by the state and administrated by commissioners. It owns large areas of land in Wales and claims the seabed and foreshore as part of its urban, rural and maritime portfolios. Yet last week’s annual report fails to provide a nation-by-nation or regional breakdown of the investments and profits of the Crown Estate. Figures for Scotland are provided on the website, but apparently no comparable figures for Wales are published. In the interests of transparency, we would like to see those figures published. In the interests of Wales, we would like to see responsibility for the Crown Estate in Wales transferred to the Welsh Government. This is our land and our seabed, and it should be used for investments that benefit the people of Wales.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Conservative, Central Devon

I feel that I must return to the status of the Crown Estate. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that it is effectively owned by the institution of the monarchy and not by the state at all?

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

I do not agree. My belief is that the Crown Estate in Wales should now be devolved to the Welsh Government.

Profits are coming from the use and exploitation of these assets. Those profits, be they for renewable energy on land or sea, should be given to the people of Wales. Having control of the Crown Estate land and sea in Wales would give us the opportunity to be a world leader in renewable energy and to develop our economy accordingly. In the meantime, the Bill should not include reference to the Crown Estate and should instead provide a series of grants according to the needs of the royal family to undertake their duties. If we are to have one single sovereign grant that is not needs-based, then why not simply increase it by the consumer prices index, as that seems to be the Government’s preferred measure of inflation?

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 5:38 pm, 14th July 2011

It is a pleasure to follow Jonathan Edwards. I agree with every single word of his speech.

These are delightful occasions. I am sorry that Jacob Rees-Mogg has left us, because he gave us another cameo performance today, although he did not give the same peroration. He would have been very much at home in the court of King Canute.

A couple of days ago, Michael Ellis rather optimistically sent me a letter—addressed to me by my first name, although I do not really know him in any way—requesting a contribution for the new stained glass window. I am afraid that I had to send him a rather disappointing reply. He did persuade me to put down an early-day motion drawing attention to the fact that we are already fairly well supplied with statues, pictures and paintings of royalty in this place, but very badly off in those things for a range of people, such as the Tolpuddle martyrs, the Chartists and the suffragettes, who have contributed hugely to the strength of our democracy and transformed this country into the proud modern democracy that it is now.

Whenever royalty is discussed, the House becomes infantilised. It is worth mentioning again that because of our own decisions, which go back seven centuries, we are not allowed to criticise not only the monarch, but any member of her family. When an attempt was made to have a debate on the conduct of Prince Andrew on two occasions, I and other Members were gagged in saying anything about him that was not emetic, sycophantic drivel. We must understand that in this debate and many others, we are denied the opportunity as a free Parliament to discuss the personalities and behaviour of the entire royal family—not that I want to be critical tonight.

I tried to make a point in the earlier debate about the special need for the role of the Head of State. The point of the story that I told about Mrs Thatcher is that we need someone who is above politics to act when a Prime Minister gets out of control. There was a possibility in 1990 that Margaret Thatcher could have caused a general election and that Parliament, the Cabinet and the Conservative party would not have been able to stop her. However, the Queen could have stopped her and almost certainly would have done so given the Queen’s personality and status. It is questionable whether other Prime Ministers would have had that strength of character and whether possible other monarchs would have had that strength of character. I am thinking of the Queen’s uncle and the Queen’s successor, who suffers from an incontinence of interference in matters that are way outside what a monarch should be involved in.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Could you remind me whether it is appropriate for an hon. Member to make remarks that appear to be disparaging about a member of the royal household?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have already had to remind Mr Flynn that when he is referring to the royal family, he should do so with dignity, as their status in this country behoves. I hope that he will refrain from disparaging remarks in the future.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

That is a splendid illustration of the fact that we are infantilised and incapable of the freedom of expression that I would have if I was writing a blog, speaking on the radio or writing in a newspaper. This House and our role is diminished because of that. As an elected representative who has long been regarded by my constituents as a republican, I am denied the opportunity of speaking the truth as I see it.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

On my hon. Friend’s substantive point, does he not think that the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill will withdraw the capacity for such royal interference in elections?

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

I think that many advances have been very beneficial. One of the most important was the decision we took in 2003 to vote on whether we go to war. Some 230 Members voted against. Unlike my hon. Friend, I do not agree with many of the attributes that give us our national status in the world of being “wider still and wider”. Many people praise us for that because it means that we can punch above our weight. It also means that our soldiers have to die beyond our responsibilities. We have taken on an unreasonable share of the dying in Afghanistan and Iraq because of the elevated view we have of our status, which is a damaging view.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We are going far wide of what we are here to speak on, which is the Third Reading of the Bill. Other Members wish to speak, so keep to the Bill, Mr Flynn.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Mr Leigh made a point about the Bill and about whether those at Buckingham palace listen to our debates. I assure him that they do. The last time I spoke on these issues, I had a call from Buckingham palace within an hour telling me that the information I had given about the heir to the throne’s income increasing by 50% in a year and his spending of taxpayers’ money increasing by 18% was absolutely accurate but could be misleading. So we are under that surveillance, I am happy to say.

I believe it is a complete myth to think that the Crown Estate is the property of the royal family, and it is a disingenuous view. In the Bill there is an attempt to refresh and replace that idea. I saw an interesting quote in the Financial Times from a Government source, who said:

“There is a major constitutional issue with appearing to say that” the Queen

“owns all this stuff when she doesn’t”.

It is quite clear that the Crown Estate is the property of the country, and that the revenue should go to health, social security and the other issues before us.

I cannot understand why Members, particularly our own Front Benchers, having seen that the Bill was coming up—we have one every 250 years—are maximising the understandable current popularity of the royal family to ensure that it gets through and that there is a settlement that could be very expensive in future. If the Bill had been presented to the House at the time of Diana’s death, or another time when the royal family were very unpopular, the House would have given a very different view. Clearly this is a honeymoon time in which to introduce it.

I believe that, as has been suggested, a simple mechanism should have been adopted. As is the case for other taxpayers, such as recipients of income support and housing benefit, there could be a mechanism linked to inflation. I suggest again that it should be the same mechanism that decides on pensioners’ increases, which have sadly been reduced because of the change from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index. If that measure were introduced and the funding were divorced from the Crown Estate, it would work and it would seem fair. Would it not be marvellous if we demanded from the royal family the same freedom of information that is demanded of all the rest of us?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Liberal Democrat, Bristol West 5:47 pm, 14th July 2011

I will be brief because I think a couple of other Members want to speak. As the Chancellor said earlier, today we are essentially altering arrangements that were first made at the time of the accession of George III in 1760. The most famous Member of Parliament for the old city of Bristol seat was Edmund Burke, and he coined the term “the fourth estate”—our dear friends, and indeed some enemies, in the press. Of course, they have had the wind of change blowing through them over the past hours and weeks. The second and third estates, of course, are ourselves in the Lords and Commons, and we have also experienced change, with more change to come. The first estate is the Crown itself, which is now receiving change. It is right that it should do so.

In particular, it is right that the Crown should be more open and transparent about its finances. I was delighted that the Chancellor confirmed that Buckingham palace itself would be open on more days of the year so that members of the public can see inside, whether they are going to garden parties or are paying visitors, who currently go in August. If they see the finest horses and the finest coaches, they can also see probably the finest art collection on the planet.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by several of my hon. Friends that we do not want to see a bicycling monarchy, but we do need a monarchy that is accessible and transparent to the public. That would also make it more enduring.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover 5:48 pm, 14th July 2011

First, I want to apologise for not being here in the earlier part of the day. I was at the hospital all day having some nuclear medicine, they called it. It is a new-fangled thing, and I would warn anybody, if you have got a chance to avoid it, avoid it. They stick a drug in you, and you feel like you are dying. What they are trying to do is put your heart under so much pressure that they can see whether you can stand the anaesthetic for a hip replacement in the near future. That is where I have been, and I missed all these wonderful contributions on the Queen’s new allowance—her winter heating allowance, or whatever it is.

I remember well, way back in 1971, being joined by a lot of people in the House who were on the left wing at the time in voting against the Queen’s money. Quite a number of them are now in the House of Lords[ Laughter. ] [Hon. Members: “Name them!] I can’t name all of them because I ain’t got time. They are all there. I remember that occasion very well because they were dining and wining on the fact that they had just voted against the Queen’s money, or the royal money.

I am here today—I just managed to get back in time for Third Reading. My view about the monarchy has been pretty much the same all my life. I remember in the pit village of Clay Cross, when I was a bit of kid during the second world war—or maybe just a bit before—kids on the street saying that the royal family had blue blood, but I just could not buy that. My inquiring mind prevented me from being like the rest of the lads on the street.

There is no doubt about it: the royal family were very popular in those days, notwithstanding King George VI not being able to speak properly on the radio. I heard all that, but notwithstanding, they were popular then, but there have been phases since when their popularity has waned, especially when Murdoch was the toast of the town—which he now ain’t. We have been slagging off Murdoch all week and telling him to sling his hook back to America and all the rest of it, but his papers had an influence. I am sure that there were times when Murdoch newspapers made a reasonable contribution to the talk about the dysfunctional royal family and all the rest of it, but I also believe that Charles himself made a contribution, because quite frankly, he is not liked. Those hon. Members who are royalists know in their hearts that they do not really want to see him be the king. When I take people from the women’s institute round the House of Commons and the House of Lords and show them the throne, they say, “Who sits in that other seat? I say, “Well, perhaps it’s Charles, but eventually, he’s gonna sit in the big seat.” They say, “Who will be in the other one?” and I say, “Camilla,” and they say, “No! We don’t want her!”

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am speaking now from this big seat. It would be very good, firstly, if the hon. Gentleman could at least refer to the royal family in a dignified manner, as has happened almost throughout the debate, and secondly, if we could get back to Third Reading. I know that for unavoidable reasons, the hon. Gentleman was unable to be here earlier, but I am sure he knows what the Bill says. Could he get back to it?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

I know that the Bill is all about £35 million in the time of a recession. The truth is that people out there, notwithstanding what anybody else tells them and irrespective of this debate, will be saying, “Here we are. We’ve got a pay freeze, inflation’s going through the roof and energy prices are going up. Because of welfare reform, they’re cutting disability allowance. Three thousand blind and disabled people have marched through London for their money, and yet, on one given day, they are able to find the money for the royal family.”

So, to go back chronologically to my story about the royal family, I was a bit of a kid, but then I got elected to Clay Cross council. I do not know what happened, but when I became chairman of the council, I got a big package, which turned out to be an invite to the royal garden party. I looked at it, and found they had included a little diagonal cross to put in the car—of course, I hadn’t a car, a bank account or a telephone. I said to a mate of mine, “You’d never believe the bumf that they’ve sent—all these different things for the royal garden party.” He said, “What did you do with it?” and I said, “I chucked it in t’dustbin.” I said, “There were even a thing to put in your car.” He says, “What colour were it?”—[ Interruption. ] No! He was asking what colour the pass was, not the car. He had seen one before, because he had been to the races to Cheltenham and Ascot and seen it. He says, “Get that pass!” I said, “Well, it’s in the dustbin,” and he says, “We’ve not emptied Wheatcroft close yet.” So I got the pass out. I saw him after he had retired, and I said, “Ay up, Joe, did you ever use that pass?” “Use it?” he says, “It’s here in t’glove compartment. I’ve used it every year. I go straight into Royal Ascot, not just the royal enclosure.”

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I let the hon. Gentleman finish the story because I wanted to hear the end, but it still has nothing to do with the Bill. May we please get back to the Bill?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

I am trying to explain that there are people out there who do not give a hoot about the royal family. The truth is that my old mate Joe, who has now passed on, wanted the pass, and that is how he felt about it. He wanted to be in the royal enclosure, unlike me. Obviously I did not go to the garden party—I have never been to one, although they tell me that Willie Hamilton did. I don’t know about that. I’ll tell you one thing though. Despite all the security, they are still using the same car passes now. So we have had the IRA, Islamic fundamentalism, 9/11, bombs on the underground and buses, and they are still using the same passes on the Mall—so they tell me.

Anyway, to get back to the Bill—[Hon. Members: “Yeah!”] I know they didn’t really like those stories anyway and we have only got a couple of minutes left. What I wanted to say is that I have always taken the view that the royal family cannot be regal and common at the same time. I thought when television came in they wanted to appear regal on the one hand but also to be like “Coronation Street” people on the other. So they got on the telly and they were playing those games and all the rest of it. I think that the Queen was badly advised. She should have kept control of them. If I had been on the advisers list, I would have told her that. But I wasn’t. I know that Charles wanted to meet me one day, and that Nicholas—well, whatever seat he stands for, he sits over there—who was a friend of Charles, said to me, “Charles wants to speak to you”. I said, “Why?” He said, “He thinks you’re very interesting.” I said, “Why, has he stopped talking to plants?” [Interruption.] It’s a friendly remark!

Anyway, I believe that at that time support waned quite remarkably. I think it is a bit higher now, but I still believe it is not the 90-odd per cent. that some people imagine it. It is more like 60:40. I do not accept either that the Queen does not have powers. I was here in 1974, during the strike and the “miners’ election”, when Heath said, “You either vote for me or you vote for the miners.” The truth is that Labour won a marginal victory. We had a tiny number of seats more than the Tories.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. This is going to come as a great disappointment to you, Mr Skinner, but you cannot talk this Bill out because at 6 o’clock, I am going to put the question. If you could now refer specifically to the Bill, we would be grateful.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

I know I have talked out several Bills in the past, but I did it by moving a debate on the writ for the Brecon and Radnor by-election and the Richmond by-election and all the rest of it. But now you have stopped me doing it, Mr Deputy Speaker. What I have to say is that here we are at a time of welfare reform, inflation and all the rest of it, and suddenly, in one day, the House of Commons changes its whole attitude and says, “We’ve got enough money. The royal family need more to live on.” And what does it do? It votes for it. Well, if I can find another teller, I’ll be voting against. Thank you very much.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife 5:59 pm, 14th July 2011

I am not sure whether I have more trepidation when I follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob

Rees-Mogg) or when I follow my hon. Friend Mr Skinner. It is slightly ironic that we are having this debate in one of the royal palaces, and perhaps we should recognise the contribution that the royal household makes to the upkeep of some of the rather expensive parts of this building. It is probably worth reflecting on some of the more turbulent debates that the House has had with the royal family about their financing over the centuries—

Debate interrupted (Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair ( Order, this day ), That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.