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Nationalisation Of The Duchies Of Lancaster And Cornwall

Volume 892: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1975

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7.16 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to take into public ownership without compensation the two estates known as the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall.
I hope that I shall be allowed to introduce this relatively non-controversial Bill without a vote.

I should like to spend a minute or two on each of the estates in question. As the estate agents would say, the Duchy of Lancaster is a very desirable estate. It has been in existence since 1265, the land having been stolen or taken from Simon de Montfort and the Earl of Ferrers. Nobody has ever satisfactorily explained why the revenues from both estates were not surrendered by the Crown within the terms of the so-called bargain struck in 1760.

I turn to one or two figures relating to the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1944 the total receipts from the estate were £154,791. In 1974 they were £1,226,966. Her Majesty the Queen's share of the swag was £100,000, tax-free, at the beginning of her reign. In 1972 –73 it had gone up to £295,000, and in 1973 –74 the Queen took £325,000.

I obtained some figures from the Treasury from which I ascertained that to have a net income of £300,000 in the year, unearned, which is what it was according to the Treasury, one would need a gross investment income of about £15 million in the year. I quote that figure as a measure of what the Crown is getting from what it chooses to describe as its private estate.

The year 1973 –74 was particularly good for income from what are called devolutions and forfeitures. For the benefit of the uninitiated I should explain that this is an income from the estates of people who die intestate and without traceable relatives. The whole of those estates go direct to the Duchy and in 1973 –74 they amounted to £164,825. In that same year rents provided £417,365.

It is not too well known that the accounts of the two Duchies, which are supposed to be private estates, are available to Members not in the Vote Office but only on request in the Library. One has to have photocopies made because only one copy of the accounts is kept there. I have photocopies. From them one can discover that the salaries of the officials and functionaries in the Duchy of Lancaster in 1974 amounted to £94,532.

We as Members of Parliament may not know, are not allowed to know and never will know who is getting what for doing what. In other words, there is a complete lack of public accountability in these matters. To ask for information about the Duchy of Lancaster and still more about the Duchy of Cornwall is like trying to get information from the KGB. Journalists have told me that they have telephoned the Duchy of Cornwall office genuinely seeking information and have been told to mind their own ruddy business. So would I be, but I secured such information as I could garner from the annual accounts.

I turn to the Duchy of Cornwall. I shall give a brief historical outline of this estate. The Duchy was created in 1337 by Edward III with a Royal Charter—long before there was any element of parliamentary democracy—which created the eldest son of the monarch as the Duke of Cornwall. The estate was his of right, his private estate from that time onwards. That estate was originally stolen from the Earls of Cornwall. The Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall therefore have one thing in common—they were both the result of Royal looting. That is why I am proposing a Bill to nationalise them without compensation so that there will be no cost to the taxpayer.

The Duchy of Cornwall comprises about 130,000 acres located between the flower fields of the Isles of Scilly and the Oval cricket ground in Kennington, from the tenant farms in Dartmouth to tenement property in Lambeth. In 1974 receipts from this estate were £1,339,010, of which £773,682 was from rents. The same applies with the Duchy of Cornwall as applies with the Duchy of Lancaster in respect of people who die intestate without known relatives. That money goes straight into the coffers of the Duchy, and therefore straight into the pocket of the Prince of Wales.

Last year money from that source amounted to £31,181. Who gets the rake off here? One need only refer again to the annual accounts. One finds that the salaries of the functionaries, the lackies, the hangers on—call them what you will—amounted to £103,338 in addition to over £93,000 for the salaries and expenses of land stewards, collectors and so forth. Payments made to the Prince of Wales in 1974 amounted to £202,173 tax free. That is the equivalent of a taxable income of about £10 million a year.

No one has yet told me, and no one was able to tell the Select Committee on which I sat three or four years ago, why this income is not taxed. It is time that it was. It is time that we took this measure of nationalisation. We have a lot of nationalisers on the Front Bench and they have my whole-hearted support. I hope that I shall find them in the Lobby with me tonight if there is a vote.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. William Hamilton, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Norman Atkinson, Mr. John Prescott, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Robin F. Cook, Mr. Bryan Davies, Mr. Mike Noble, and Mr. Russell Kerr.

Nationalisation Of The Duchies Of Lancaster And Cornwall

Mr. William Hamilton accordingly presented a Bill to take into public ownership without compensation the two estates known as the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall; and for the purposes connected therewith: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 27th June and to be printed. [Bill 161.]