Second Reading

Rights of the Sovereign and the Duchy of Cornwall Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 10:00 am on 8th November 2013.

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Moved by Lord Berkeley

That the Bill be read a second time.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 10:06 am, 8th November 2013

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Rights of the Sovereign and the Duchy of Cornwall Bill [HL], have consented to place their prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I am very grateful for the Minister’s statement, which means that I can now proceed.

Before I get into the substance of the Bill, noble Lords might be interested to hear that I found out recently that an ancestor of mine, the third Earl of Berkeley, who was later the First Lord of the Admiralty, was a leading member of something called the Kit-Cat Club. I do not know how many noble Lords know about the Kit-Cat Club but in the early 18th century it was one of those organisations—largely a Whig one—which were united in their belief in the authority of Parliament over the monarchy. One has to consider how much has changed.

This Bill proposes comparatively small changes to the relationship between the monarchy and Parliament, and perhaps starts the process of what I hope will be quite a long discussion over the coming years. There are three clauses in the Bill. The first one amends the Sovereign Grant Act 2011 in respect of royal travel. This is a serious issue because there is a question over how many royals and royal duties should receive taxpayer-funded travel, as well as the scrutiny that Parliament has over these arrangements. I have been following this for some years, as noble Lords will probably know, and have noted that Parliament gets less and less detail of how many journeys there are by air and rail and how much they cost.

I noted that Prince Andrew flew to Jeddah for a funeral, chartering his own aircraft at a cost of £86,000 to the public purse, when the return fare for two people, first class, would cost four grand. Is there is an argument for having your own plane to go to a funeral when there is a scheduled direct flight? At the other extreme, Princess Anne does an awful lot of good for transport particularly, but I noted that she took a helicopter to visit two gymkhanas in one day. That is fine if you are horsy but is it really necessary that the taxpayer pay for it?

What worries me is that the arrangements seem to have become open-ended. They used to be confined to 12 members of the Royal Family, but I got a Written Answer on 3 September that said:

“It is for Her Majesty The Queen to decide which members of the Royal Family receive support from the Sovereign Grant to meet travel costs”.—[Hansard, 23/9/13; col. WA 441.]

However, there seems to be no proper independent scrutiny where taxpayers’ money is involved. That obsequiousness seems to affect many of the dealings between Parliament and the royal family, and needs to change.

Clause 1 suggests that the costs should be kept under control and scrutinised. Six members seems a good number. Many years ago, when the Queen was a princess, there were probably only six members of the family performing royal duties; should there be any more? Royal travel arrangements, if funded by the taxpayer, should be scrutinised by Parliament in the same way as Ministers’ travel.

Clause 2 addresses two issues. The first is comparatively minor. It seems reasonable that the heir to the Throne should inherit the title of the Duke of Cornwall, whatever their sex. We debated that when discussing the Succession to the Crown Act, and it seems perfectly reasonable.

Turning to the second half of the clause, as a resident of Cornwall, I hear a lot of views about the Duchy, some good, some bad, but there is an awful lot of correspondence. I see the second half of the clause as tidying up some history. I suggest that the present status and structure of the Duchy remains pretty feudal, and that it is intentionally so, as it seems to suit all those involved not to rock the boat and incur what one might call royal displeasure.

We start with a big debate about whether the Duchy is in the private or the public sector. There is secrecy, obfuscation, Crown immunity and a failure to respond to questions. It is worth going back a bit in history. The Duchy has been around for a very long time, but I discovered that the Duchy of Cornwall Act 1860 states:

“All the provisions of the said Act of the ninth year of King George the third now applicable to Her Majesty, her Heirs and Successors, shall be extended and be applicable to the Duke of Cornwall, in like manner as if the same were re-enacted and the Duke of Cornwall were throughout mentioned or referred to where the ‘Kings Majesty’ or ‘His Majesty’ is in the said Act mentioned”.

That means that the Duke of Cornwall is effectively in the position of King of Cornwall. We can debate whether that appeals to the people of Cornwall, but it is confirmed in a preliminary statement by the Duchy of Cornwall in a foreshore dispute in 1856. It suggests that the three Duchy charters are sufficient in themselves to vest in the Duke of Cornwall not only the government of Cornwall but the entire territorial dominion.

It is also interesting to note that, whereas the sheriffs of the counties of Britain swear an oath of allegiance to the sovereign, the Sheriff of Cornwall swears an oath of allegiance to the Duke of Cornwall as sovereign of Cornwall. Those examples appear to provide strong confirmation that the Duchy is a public body and, as such, subject to environmental, housing and other laws. That was confirmed in a judgment concerning Port Navas on the Telford river on the question of whether the Duchy should be subject to environmental legislation. The Duchy lost the case, perhaps influenced by evidence from the Duchy which said that,

“the Duchy is not democratically accountable in any meaningful sense”.

The Duchy is appealing; that appeal is still pending, but it must be comforting for it to have the free advice of the Treasury Solicitor. The man who made the original complaint has to fund his own legal costs; we are funding the Duchy's costs.

There is an issue of tax. The Public Accounts Committee published a report last week which, I thought, was very deferential. I am sure that if I or any other noble Lord had been questioned by the Public Accounts Committee about not paying tax, we would not have received the response that, yes, there ought to be a bit more investigation by the Treasury. The Treasury responded even more deferentially. That was an opportunity lost to get things on a proper footing. Then there is the question of Crown immunity. The Duchy does not pay capital gains tax or corporation tax, and Duchy income is taxed on a voluntary basis. Would not we all like to be taxed on a voluntary basis?

The Duchy accounts state that, in accordance with the memorandum of understanding of 1993, the Prince of Wales pays rent on Highgrove, his house in Gloucestershire. There is no lease in place and, as I understand the evidence given by Sir Bertie Ross for the Duchy, the Prince is entitled to the income from the Duchy, so it would be a matter of the Prince taking money from one pocket and placing it in another, so he does not actually pay rent. He can claim tax relief on that proportion of the rent which relates to Highgrove being used for public purposes, so it appears that he is claiming tax relief in respect of rent which is paid in theory but not actually paid or which, having been paid, is returned to him. I hope that noble Lords can follow that.

On the issue of housing, Mr Alan Davis, who lives in the Isles of Scilly, wants the right to buy his leasehold property from the Duchy. He is challenging the Prince on his decision in the Prince’s Council to resist that because the Leasehold Reform Act does not apply to the Duchy because of Crown immunity. There is an awful lot of confusion and documents have been lost. Mr Davis’s case comes before the tribunal in Truro, so I shall not comment on it further. It seems wrong that people who live in houses leased from the Duchy cannot buy their own houses in the way that other people can because the Duchy claims that it wishes to manage the built and national environment. There is legislation to do that. The Leasehold Reform Act may not be perfect, but the exclusion of the Duchy from it is a matter of concern.

The next issue is the rents that the Duchy charges for its properties. According to Richard McCarthy, who is chair of the Duchy Tenants Association, average Duchy rents in 2011-12 were £130, whereas council rents averaged £70 and housing association rents averaged £100. The average household income on the Scillies is just £277 a week, compared with the national average of £390, so those rents are very hard for tenants in the Duchy to afford.

My last example is something called bona vacantia. It applies to people who die in Cornwall without a will. Their estate then goes to the Duchy. It is worth about £500,000 a year. I think that the people of Cornwall think that that money should be spent on good causes in Cornwall, but it appears from the Duchy accounts that it is distributed to Strata Florida in Wales, Gordonstoun School, which Prince Charles attended, and a Kennington residents’ association. Because the money came from Cornwall, there is a feeling that the funds should be distributed to good causes in Cornwall.

I have been able to give just a snapshot of the obfuscations, uncertainties and spurious claims by the Duchy of being in the private sector or in the public sector and having Crown immunity, which seems to vary on the time and the subject, all coupled with the secrecy from both the Duchy and, sad to say, the Government, whose obsequiousness sometimes seems more appropriate to a feudal era, when the Prime Minister would get his head chopped off if he did not do whatever the sovereign or the heir to the Throne wanted.

I have had lots of support from the people of Cornwall about this; many of them fear that they cannot speak out, and one can understand why. So my solution is to separate the Duchy estate from any historical link with the monarchy and turn it into a public trust for the benefit of the people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. There is over 600 years of history to unravel and that is not easy, so this would need secondary legislation and perhaps some primary as well, but the opportunity should be taken to clear up all the anomalies about the status of the Duke of Cornwall and his rights. In this context, my Bill would ensure that the Prince of Wales should no longer be King of Cornwall in the feudal sense. I think that he should retain his links with Cornwall as he does with Wales—but he does not own Wales. That is the purpose of that clause.

Clause 3 has rather been overtaken by events. It concerns the issue of consent from the Queen or the Prince of Wales before a Bill receives Royal Assent. The Minister kindly indicated the consent at the start of this debate. I do not need to go into this topic in any particular detail because, in evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on 31 October, the Clerks of both Houses of Parliament basically said that Parliament could change that; it would not need any legislation but if it wished to stop this, it could do it. To demonstrate why we need to change the current arrangements, I have a couple of examples of cases where approval was not signified for a Bill. The Clerks’ evidence is that this has happened twice. Although the legislation was not refused—this is a deferential way of “not saying no but meaning no”—two Private Member’s Bills were affected. One was the Second Reading of the Military Actions against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill on 16 April 1999, in which Tam Dalyell tried to require Parliament to give approval of declarations of war, which did not go ahead because the Prime Minister of the day almost certainly advised the Queen that it would not be a good idea to go ahead, perhaps because he might want to bomb Iraq without getting the approval of Parliament —we can debate that. The other was the Third Reading of the Pig Husbandry Bill on 3 May 1991. I do not know whether the Royal Family keep pigs in Windsor Castle, but why that did not go ahead I also do not know. All I can do is quote John Kirkhope, a public notary and chartered insurer who has given me a lot of help with this information:

“I am surprised Parliamentarians tolerate this situation which means, in effect, if you introduce a Bill to Parliament someone taps you on the shoulder and says you need the consent of the Duke of Cornwall because it may affect his private interests!”.

So I hope that when the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee reports it will be a lot more robust and less deferential, and will recommend the end of this feudal period.

In conclusion, there is much that needs doing, sorting out and cleaning up in many areas of the relationship between the monarch, the Prince of Wales and Parliament. I hope that the constitutional monarchy survives and prospers but at the moment the Prince of Wales in particular is put in an impossible position in seeking to do what he believes is best in a kind of feudal environment that started 600 years ago but in the 21st century is not appropriate. Change is necessary, but we have to get away from this deferential relationship of obfuscation and silence that is hampering the debate. I hope that the Bill, covering only a small part of that relationship, will start an open debate and eventually some very necessary change. I beg to move.


The evidence from the clerks on abolishing royal consent referred to in the speech is published at


Richard Taylor

Submitted by Richard Taylor

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 10:24 am, 8th November 2013

My Lords, I suppose you could call that a Duchy original. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is a very genial man outside this Chamber, but I have to say this morning he reminded me of that wonderful character from ITMA, Mona Lott, in that it is being so cheerful as keeps him going. What we have had this morning is an extraordinary series of disconnected accusations and observations. He referred to Clause 3 of his Bill and said that legislation was not needed. I would say that legislation was not needed on this particular subject, full stop. While I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Lord and recognise that he is the last person that anyone would dare to call obsequious, nevertheless I think that today he has got it wrong.

The noble Lord has a reputation for being a fine engineer. I am sure that he is. As a fine engineer, though, he knows that precision is very important. He knows that if you are called out to repair something, you do not go along to repair modern machinery with a bag of wooden tools. That is in fact what he has been doing today.

I would just make a few points to your Lordships in opposing the Bill, which I am delighted to do. Yesterday we were debating Magna Carta and the importance of the rule of law. Earlier, my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth had an interesting debate in the Moses Room on commencement orders, to which my noble friend Lord Gardiner, sitting on the Front Bench, gave a most excellent reply. The theme of that debate was that legislation must be demonstrated to be necessary and designed to solve a specific problem or provide a proper remedy, and then it must be properly enforced. One of the underlying themes of that debate, particularly emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, was that pre-legislative scrutiny was really a necessary precondition wherever possible—one accepts terrorism legislation sometimes, and things like that—for all legislation. If ever there was a need for pre-legislative scrutiny, it is here.

I do not believe that legislation is necessary, and I certainly do not think it should be embarked upon without the most careful examination. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that what we should be doing is referring some of the matters that give him concern to the Constitution Committee of this House and there should be a proper, thorough and objective examination. Merely to base one’s case on a number of isolated examples, as happened towards the end of the noble Lord’s speech, is no way to proceed to legislation in this House, particularly on a very sensitive matter.

I refer again to the noble Lord’s career as an engineer—a very illustrious and successful one. He knows as an engineer that a delicate mechanism can be thrown completely out of gear by the removal of one apparently insignificant part. One often finds this quoted particularly in the case of clocks and watches. If there was ever anything that was delicate and needed the most careful handling, it is our British constitution. It is not a written constitution. Some may wish that we had one, as some did in last night’s debate, but we do not. We therefore have to look very carefully at what we are doing when we come to constitutional reform.

This Bill is, in a sense, the son of the Succession to the Crown Bill, because during the passage of that Bill the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, moved amendments, referred to his concerns about the Duchy of Cornwall and advised the House that, at some stage in the future, he would seek to introduce legislation. On 14 May, he was as good as his word when he produced a Bill which had its First Reading on that day.

Many of us were concerned about the Succession to the Crown Bill because we believed it had not been sufficiently thought through. There were implications for the Church of England—the established church—which concerned the Bench of Bishops. Indeed, the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who had charge of that Bill in this House and handled it with great skill and sensitivity, was at pains to ensure that, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, certain correspondence with the Roman Catholic church was published.

Those of us who felt that that Bill had perhaps been a little rushed were not against the essential principle about the succession of a woman—of course, not—but we were concerned about some of the implications. It was suggested that because the Duchess of Cambridge was with child, it would be as well to get this Bill through quickly. Of course, the child arrived, the child was a boy, there was great rejoicing, and the sense of urgency—if ever there was one—disappeared, so there is no urgency about this. That underlines the point I made a few moments ago, that if these subjects are to be looked at, they need to be looked at carefully and deliberately, and if there is to be legislation of any sort, it needs the most careful pre-legislative scrutiny. The whole issue would benefit very much from the considered observations of the Constitution Committee of this House.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

I have been thinking about my noble friend’s watch analogy. Does he not think there is something of an irony about a hereditary Peer given a life peerage attending a House which is not subject to democratic accountability and in which we are given tax-free allowances complaining about tax privileges and a lack of accountability?

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My noble friend Lord Forsyth, not for the first time, puts his finger on a number of interesting issues upon which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, might reflect. When he is contemplating the illustrious past of his family, and its contribution to the Kit-Cat Club, the portraits of whose members hang in Brooks’s Club to this day, he might just wonder whether, in fact, he has not been guilty of a little inconsistency.

There is one part of the Bill that I find particularly niggardly. It is the part dealing with travel. The noble Lord wants to restrict those who can have official travel to six members. He bases this on the fact that the Succession to the Crown Bill specifically mentions the six next in line who have to seek the permission of the sovereign to marry. We had debates on this and amendments were moved, including, if I recall correctly, by my noble friend Lord Lang, to extend the number to 12, but the Bill went through with six in it. However, there is no analogy. One has to realise that there are many members of the Royal Family who give unstinting public service and whose presence at public events is greatly welcomed. I do not want to be invidious and give a long list, but I single out particularly the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. The Duke of Gloucester is punctilious in fulfilling a range of engagements. I have attended a number of engagements which he has attended. The pleasure that he gives by going and the interest that he takes in the people he meets are of enormous value and worth. I believe that it would be niggardly in the extreme to say that only six members of the Royal Family should be allowed to travel to fulfil their official duties at the taxpayer’s expense.

In his concluding remarks, the noble Lord referred with what seemed a less than enthusiastic endorsement to constitutional monarchy. I believe very passionately in our constitutional monarchy. For well over 60 years now, Her Majesty the Queen has served this country absolutely impeccably. I believe that we are all enormously in her debt and that of members of the Royal Family, and I do not believe that now is the time to be nitpicking about the Duchy of Cornwall. The Duchy of Cornwall goes back 600 years. That, in itself, may be a reason to say we should have a look at things, but it is no reason to embark with a rather blunt instrument on an attack on an institution that has served us very well.

It is good to have debate in this House, and it is important that when issues such as this are raised, there is an opportunity to comment on them from both sides of the argument. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has this morning made a case for this legislation. I believe it would be hasty and ill considered and that, if we are to look at these subjects, they need to be looked at in detail and in depth, dispassionately, objectively and carefully. All those qualities can be brought to bear by your Lordships’ House. They should be brought to bear. There should be no question of letting this Bill proceed anywhere near the statute book. I am confident that it will not.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat 10:36 am, 8th November 2013

My Lords, I am very proud to be a resident of Cornwall. I represented Cornwall, together with the Isles of Scilly—which are mainly a Duchy possession and are very proud to be separate from Cornwall—in the European Parliament and was a member of the unitary authority for Cornwall when it was first established in 2009.

What has come over from the speeches from noble Lords so far is an argument about the position of royalty and the monarchy, and all that rather contentious area. I am sure that that was intended by both noble Lords. I rather support the Bill because it covers a number of very sensible issues in a very short way. I do not necessarily agree with all of it, but there are certain areas where changes make an awful lot of sense. Such changes would, ironically, probably strengthen the monarchy in the way that it operates in the future. I shall very briefly look at a couple of points that are brought up in the Bill.

The first is consent. I was interested to read the excellent briefing put together by the House authorities. I had never realised that it is a convention that both Houses of Parliament consult the monarch or the Duke of Cornwall on legislation that would affect their interests. I find that quite strange. I was pleased to see that the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons made clear that there is no need for legislation, as this could be changed by resolution of both Houses. Having said that, I think it is a good issue to bring up. It is strange, and most people would find it quite at odds with the way that a sovereign Parliament would be expected to act. The issue is well worth pursuing, and I would be very much in favour of removing the requirement of consent. It seems to unnecessarily put a question about the way that the sovereign or the Duke of Cornwall acts before legislation comes before Parliament. I would have thought that it would be useful to everybody if that process no longer happened.

In terms of who the title of Duke of Cornwall can pass to, Parliament has decided that the royal succession should now be gender-neutral, and it is obvious to me that that principle should be applied to the Duchy of Cornwall. It seems to be a complete anomaly. I understand absolutely why the Government did not include that in the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, because they needed to keep that Bill as narrow as they could to meet the needs of other Commonwealth nations that have the Queen as head of state. However, I see absolutely no reason why we should not move forward on that. In fact, that would be extremely positive.

The future of the Duchy of Cornwall estate is perhaps far more contentious. As it is currently, it does not sit comfortably. Particularly in the Isles of Scilly, there is the practical issue of residents feeling that they are in quite a difficult position in terms of how the Duchy operates, the agent and all the issues which affect the lives of the islands’ citizens and families. I am not sure that it is as comfortable or correct as it should be. In a constitutional monarchy, it makes sense that the heir to the Throne and the sovereign should have similar or identical budgetary and financial procedures. I do not see why we should have a separate Duchy of Cornwall estate any longer. Having said that, I am absolutely sure, knowing Cornwall very well indeed, that even if the estate went into a public trust, that would not send away all the arguments about it and about how the money should be used. Would it stop my honourable friends in the other place, including my own MP, from receiving letters about how this money is used and assets are distributed, disposed of or developed? I am absolutely sure that it would not. It would certainly not be a silver bullet. However, it would be an improvement. These areas all deserve further investigation. They are sensible suggestions and would in fact strengthen the constitutional monarchy in this country, which is perhaps ironic for the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.

One thing I will say, from my experience in Cornwall, in business and as an elected politician, is that the Prince’s Trust, which I have worked with a number of times, has been absolutely excellent. The work that it undertakes is extremely good, in terms of helping younger people enter business and make a much greater contribution to society. Those programmes have been excellent and most successful. The issues in the Bill need looking at, although how important they are is perhaps another matter. I suspect that the Bill will not take up a huge amount of the House’s time between now and the next election. The issues are important in principle.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 10:43 am, 8th November 2013

My Lords, we owe my noble friend Lord Berkeley a vote of thanks for raising an issue of this nature. It has not been an easy debate for him to launch, but he has struggled on with it. As he said, he has been following these issues for some years. The note from the Library which came around earlier certainly exemplifies that, with the number of questions that he has been asking and the detail that he has been trying to dig out.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, obviously takes a different view and did so in his very interesting style. As somebody on these Benches said to me, it was a speech that could have been made at any time in the past 400 years. There is credit in that; it is a compliment, not necessarily an attack. He referred to yesterday’s debate on Magna Carta, which was extremely interesting because, among the issue that we talked about—how Parliament would celebrate Magna Carta in June 2015—there was a current about the constitutional issues.

There is no doubt that Magna Carta in its original form and various manifestations since then—something like 14 different charters were issued until it died out in the mid-15th century—was and is a particularly important document for the way we organise and run our society. Is it a constitutional document? Almost certainly, and two clauses in it are still extant in our laws. However, the point is that we do not really understand where our constitutional documents lie. People often ask for a written constitution. As I said yesterday, that is a mistake: most of the constitutional arrangements are written down, but the difficulty is that they are not brought together in a codified form. Even if that were to happen, as I strongly believe it should, difficulties would remain with the royal prerogative and other areas of our constitution which are not as well exposed as they could be.

That is my point about this Bill. My noble friend Lord Berkeley makes a number of specific proposals, but the general point is about trying to throw a light on activities which affect individuals up and down the country, but particularly in Cornwall. That plays to a larger concern about the extent to which those areas of our constitutional arrangements which are not as well scrutinised as they might be can sometimes affect particular aspects of the process of government in which we are all involved. It may well be that pig husbandry is not the most important issue. However, this is probably not the only Bill—there was another one—in respect of which thought was given to whether, if put forward in its present form, it might need to be changed later. My noble friend Lord Berkeley is pointing up, in this section of the Bill, the hidden areas of activity which make up the law-making and governing of our country.

Other parts of the Bill will apply in other ways to different areas. However, it seems to me and these Benches that we should not miss the chance to have a good look at some of these areas and the specifics that my noble friend has raised in his Bill. We should be concerned about whether or not this is the right way of proceeding with this sort of legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is right to say that all legislation would be better if it were subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. I wish his party could put more effort into that—I am thinking in particular of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which is a classic. The noble Lord nods well, but I wish that he would join us in discussion sometimes. I look forward to seeing him on those Benches on Monday when we will talk about Part 3, which was subject to no consultation whatever before being introduced. Is this the way to govern a country? No, it is not.

We accept pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill has not been subject to that, although it is hard to see how it could be, given that it is a Private Member’s Bill. To the extent that it could be discussed, we wish it well.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 10:47 am, 8th November 2013

My Lords, this is the second of two Private Members’ Bills we have had in this Session which attempt to “tidy up”, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, our history. I have mixed views on this. The noble Lord himself holds a feudal title which is old enough to descend along the female line. As a liberal, in many ways, I am thoroughly in favour of a rational and written constitution. I think I am right in saying that the Act of 1863, one of the first of the modern Acts which regulate the Duchy of Cornwall, was passed under a Liberal Government at the same time that that Government proposed for the first time that the Law Lords should be separated from the House of Lords—something which took only 160 years to carry to its conclusion.

The Duchy goes back nearly 700 years. I have a sense from debates on Lords reform that there is not an enormous appetite in the Chamber for rationalising our constitution. I have myself come up against some interesting historical anomalies. Many years ago, when I was first in this House, I asked some questions about the Crown dependencies. The chief executive of Jersey came to see me the following week and started by saying very vigorously, “I hope you understand that we were promised in 1204 that the Channel Islands would be a low-tax jurisdiction”. Some while later I asked to see the charter which had promised that and was told that it has been lost in the late 13th century. If one starts trying to rationalise the constitution, a number of issues come into play.

I associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said about the good work of the Duchy of Cornwall—the Prince’s Trust. There was a remarkably positive article in the Financial Timeslast weekend about Poundbury and how, in spite of all its critics, it is a working local community with a great deal to offer, particularly in environmental terms, as a place for people to work as well as live.

The Bill has three separate parts. The first proposes restrictions on the use of the sovereign grant for travel. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made a number of pointed criticisms of current members of the Royal Family, which in some ways we should as a House regret as they got relatively personal. Her Majesty the Queen asks a number of members of her family to stand in on her behalf as engagements demand and some of these, as has been said, are members of the Royal Family who are lower than sixth in the line of succession. The Royal Family carries out a large number of public duties and the sovereign is well placed to assess who can best take her place at functions—particularly as she still carries out a great many duties but obviously not as many as she was able to do some 20 or 30 years ago.

The second part proposes amendments to the Duchy of Cornwall estate. The Duchy of Cornwall is an interesting anomaly. It is a private estate that funds the public, charitable and private activities of the Prince of Wales and his family but, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has commented, it is nevertheless governed by a number of Acts passed in the past 150 years, the combined effect of which has been to place the Duchy’s assets in trust for the benefit of the present and future Dukes of Cornwall and to govern the use of the assets. Many of the assets are in Cornwall but quite a large number of them are outside Cornwall. Mention was made in this debate of the Kennington estate.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall is entitled to the annual net income of the Duchy. He is not entitled to the proceeds or profits from the sales of the Duchy’s capital assets, which are retained in the Duchy to provide income for the Duke and future beneficiaries. Since it was established in the early 14th century, the Duchy’s main purpose has been to fund an income independent of the monarch for the heir apparent. The current Prince of Wales chooses to use a substantial proportion of his income from the Duchy to meet the costs of his public and charitable work. At present the Duchy funds the public and private lives of four members of the Royal Family—the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Prince Harry. The Bill’s proposal to place the assets of the Duchy of Cornwall in public trust is an unacceptable encroachment on private property rights as currently established. If the Duchy were to be taken away from the heir apparent, it would still be necessary to fund their activities through the sovereign grant.

The next part touches on succession to the Duchy of Cornwall and this overlaps with the previous Bill we were discussing on the succession to the Crown. I have some sympathy with the anomalies at stake and the peculiarity of this charter. There are many peculiarities in succession. I was talking to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, yesterday about the succession to her Earldom and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, himself benefits from a particular sort of succession. Rationalising all of these may be part of what we need to do in the 21st century and I recognise that, when it comes to the Royal Family, this is a particularly interesting issue to attack. However, if we look back at recent history there have been long stretches when there has been no Duke of Cornwall and the Duchy has continued to manage its affairs well. There is nothing to stop a female heir having an active role in the running of the Duchy should the sovereign so wish. I can also reassure the House that a female heir apparent will not find herself at a financial disadvantage because the Sovereign Grant Act 2011 broadly ensures that financial provision equivalent to the income from the Duchy is made for the heir apparent.

Then we come to the removal of the Queen’s and Prince’s consent—a rationalisation of one of the ancient practices of the two Houses of Parliament. It is a long-standing parliamentary requirement that the consent of the Queen and the Prince of Wales should be given for certain Bills. The parliamentary authorities decide which Bills require that consent, not the Government. Signifying the consent of the Queen and the Prince of Wales for certain legislation is a parliamentary requirement and the Government will continue to do that for as long as Parliament requires it. The Government’s role is to ensure that consent is sought for government and Private Members’ Bills when it is required by Parliament. This requirement reflects the unique relationship between the sovereign and the legislature which is rooted in the historical royal prerogative and provides for a formal parliamentary process by which the sovereign can be informed of, and consulted on, legislation which affects the sovereign’s prerogative and interests. The Government will generally seek consent for Private Members’ Bills even when they oppose the Bill on the basis that Parliament should not be prevented from debating a matter on account of consent not having been obtained.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 10:55 am, 8th November 2013

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been a very interesting debate and, unsurprisingly, not everyone has agreed with each other or with my Bill.

I am not going to respond in detail to all the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, but he said that pre-legislative scrutiny for something like this was essential, which is not very different from my purpose in moving the Bill. We need to have a discussion. We can decide how it is done but we certainly need to debate it further. I have looked into the Duchy of Cornwall in a bit of detail and there is no way that a Private Member’s Bill could ever seek to change what is there because of all the historical issues that have been discussed today and probably many more. My purpose was to start a debate on it and I think we have had a good debate.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his support. He said that if the Duchy was converted into a public trust it would not stop the debate. He is absolutely right. It would continue between all his different Members of Parliament in Cornwall, but at least there would be a public debate, which is one of the most important things.

It was not my intention to say that we should not do anything until we have a written constitution. It gives the impression of opening a can of worms almost and that is always a danger in doing something like this. Something could probably be done about the Duchy and some of the other issues if there was a will to have further discussion, which could happen rather more quickly.

Finally, the Minister said that the Duchy was a private estate. From the information I have, this has never been debated and it has never been tested in court and I do not think there is any legislation to say whether it is. I think that probably needs to be reviewed because out of it—I tried to give a few examples—come a number of anomalies that need sorting out. We have had a very useful debate which I wish to continue.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.