I beg to move,
(1) new provision be made for, or in connection with, the financial support of the Sovereign and of the heir to the throne;
(2) any sums payable in respect of provision so made should be payable out of money provided by Parliament;
(3) provision be made enabling the continuation, in the reigns of Her Majesty’s successors, of the payment of the hereditary revenues of the Crown as directed under section 1 of the Civil List Act 1952;
(4) provision be made about allowances and pensions under the Civil List Acts of 1837 and 1952;
(5) any sums payable in respect of such allowances and pensions by virtue of any provision so made should be charged on the Consolidated Fund;
(6) it is expedient to amend the law relating to the financial support of members of the Royal Household.
The Queen’s Gracious Message yesterday invited Parliament to consider the provision of support to Her Majesty, her successors and other members of the royal household. That reflects a simple fact: the current civil list arrangements are no longer sustainable. They are inflexible, less than transparent and, critically, rely on a reserve of public funds that has steadily been run down and is about to become depleted.
As I explained to Parliament last October, we have been working with the royal household to design a new funding arrangement. It will take the form of a new sovereign grant that balances the public interest in our Queen being properly funded to carry out her official duties with the legitimate interest of the taxpayer in proper accountability and value for money. If we approve the motion, the Bill to establish the sovereign grant will be published later today and the House will have an opportunity for a longer and more detailed debate in two weeks’ time, or thereabouts, on Second Reading.
We must start our discussion today by recognising the Queen’s long service and immense contribution to public life in our country. I was firmly put in my place on taking office when I was reminded that I was the 19th Chancellor of the Exchequer to serve under Her Majesty. In the 59th year since her accession to the throne and the 86th year of her life, Her Majesty still took part in 440 public engagements. Her visit to Northumberland last week reminds us of the work that she and other members of her family carry out week in, week out to celebrate the achievements of communities across Britain. The royal family also conduct official business on behalf of the Government, leading 2,700 engagements and 150 official overseas visits last year. More than 41,000 people were invited to events at one of the palaces.
The monarchy is also a powerful magnet for international tourism, worth, according to one recent estimate, some £500 million to Britain. There is little doubt that our monarchy is a source of great national pride and constitutional strength that is widely admired around the world. As has been recognised for centuries, however, the official duties of the monarch cost money. That is why in the 18th century an historic arrangement was reached between the Government and the monarch. Until then, the monarchy was indistinguishable from the state and both were funded from the income the mediaeval Crown collected from its estates, as well as duties, fines and other charges.
In 1760, George III agreed to surrender for his lifetime the full income of the Crown Estate to the Government in return for a civil list. That arrangement has been in place ever since and a clear demarcation has long been established between the private income of the royal family for their private expenditure and the publicly funded income, derived from the civil list, for the royal family’s public duties.
At the beginning of each reign, Parliament passes a new Civil List Act setting out a fixed annual amount for the whole of that reign. That was done in 1952, when Her Majesty was proclaimed Queen. By 1972, high inflation had so eroded the value of the civil list that the system had to change and this House agreed to set fixed annual amounts for 10 years at a time, but this system, too, had its weaknesses. As inflation was hard to forecast accurately over a 10-year-period, the civil list ended up being too generous at the beginning of the period and too meagre at the end. We are living with those weaknesses still.
In 1990, the annual civil list amount was set at £7.9 million. Additional support was provided to the monarch in the form of two grants in aid, one for travel and one for maintenance of the royal palaces, but inflation in the 1990s was falling faster than forecast and much of the funding was not spent. Instead, it went into a reserve, which by 2001 had grown to more than £37 million. At the beginning of the last decade, it was decided that rather than set a new civil list, the royal household should run down that reserve to fund its official duties.
That means that over the past three years, the royal household has on average spent about £35 million a year. Let me set out how the spending breaks down for 2009-10, the most recent year for which there is out-turn data. There was £7.9 million from the civil list, £6.5 million from the reserve—that was, of course, public money that had been provided earlier—£3.9 million for travel, £400,000 for communications, and £15.4 million for royal palace maintenance. It should be made clear that over recent decades the royal household has done a huge amount to cut costs and improve the effectiveness of its spending. Indeed, total spending has come down from £45.8 million in 1991 to an expected £35 million in 2010-11. That is a real-terms cut of more than 50% in 20 years. No other Government Department can claim to have achieved anything like that.
Those efficiencies have continued in recent years. For example, visitor income to the palaces has almost doubled, commercial lettings at Hampton Court and Kensington palace are up 30% and a two-year pay and recruitment freeze on the royal household has been imposed. I want to take this opportunity to thank the current Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Alan Reid, and his predecessors for doing such a good job.
Despite such impressive efficiencies, however, there are problems with the current system. It is very inflexible. For example, money saved in travel cannot be used to undertake an urgent repair of a property. It is opaque, as the National Audit Office’s access to official spending is limited and, although it has carried out value-for-money studies, it has no audit function. Critically for today’s discussion, it was clear by April 2010 that the royal household’s reserve, which had provided a key component of its annual income, was running out.
The previous Government took the decision, which I completely understand, to leave it to the incoming Government to fix that situation. This is how we propose to do it. We will introduce a new sovereign grant that provides appropriate resources for the Queen to do her job with dignity but balances that with fairness and accountability for the taxpayer. It is designed around three principles. First, it provides the monarchy with sustainable long-term financing free from annual political interference, by which I mean the budget can be set for the long term and automatically uprated without an annual political argument. Secondly, it provides flexibility, so that the royal household can manage its funds efficiently to deliver best value for taxpayers. The third principle is that, alongside more sustainable finances with greater flexibility, we will ensure greater accountability and transparency and establish proper checks and balances to prevent the sums provided from becoming too excessive. Those are the three principles underpinning our approach.
[Official Report, 5 July 2011, Vol. 530, c. 13-14MC.]Let me now turn to some of the detail, recognising that in a fortnight’s time or so people will have had a chance to study the legislation and we will have a longer debate on Second Reading. First, we need a funding mechanism that prevents the sovereign from coming to Parliament each year for resources, and that provides funding broadly in line with the growth of the economy. There is such a mechanism at hand, through the historical connection with the Crown Estate, so I propose that from 2013-14 the royal household receives 15% of the profits made by the Crown Estate in the two years prior. That is an average.
As the House will know, the Crown Estate is a large commercial property portfolio comprising £6.7 billion of assets, and 15% of the profits is estimated to provide a sovereign grant worth about £34 million in 2013-14—in other words, broadly in line with the latest data on grant and reserve spending for 2009-10, which was £34 million.
Each year, as the economy grows, the revenues of the Crown Estate will grow, and the monarch will eventually receive 15% of those revenues using that formula. There will be a cash floor to protect the monarch from cash cuts, but basically the monarch will do as well as the economy is doing. We will see how the Crown Estate performs, but the current estimate is that the 15% formula will mean that by 2014-15, the last full year of this Parliament, the monarch will receive about £35million. In cash terms, that is broadly in line with what it has spent in recent years; in real terms, it is about a 9% cut over the Parliament.
We are also preparing a further important improvement to the current system. Historically, extending funding arrangements to new monarchs required primary legislation within six months of their accession. That arcane process made it difficult for the royal household to plan for the future, and for each new monarch to achieve a smooth transition at the beginning of their reign when so much else needed to be done. So I propose that the new legislation should be a permanent arrangement that outlives the sovereign. It will require only an Order in Council, rather than a whole new piece of legislation, to extend the sovereign grant to a new monarch, and I hope that Members agree that this is a sensible arrangement.
We will also use the Bill to remove an historical anomaly about the Duchy of Cornwall. The revenues of the duchy are used to fund the Prince of Wales in his official duties, but they are available to him only because he is the Duke of Cornwall, and only the eldest son of the monarch can be the Duke of Cornwall. So if the heir to the throne is female or, indeed, a second son or a grandson, they cannot be the Duke of Cornwall, which means that they would not get the revenues of the duchy.
We propose to correct that anomaly by making it clear that in future Duchy of Cornwall revenues will in effect go to the heir, whether or not they are the Duke of Cornwall. There will also be a provision in the Bill to deal with the situation in which the heir is not yet an adult.
We will also bring to an end another anomaly by which certain members of the royal family receive statutory payments from the Exchequer only for the money to be reimbursed to the Exchequer by the Queen. Yesterday, I received a letter from the Keeper of the Privy Purse on this matter, copies of which will be made available in the Library after my speech. The new sovereign grant will replace all statutory payments and annuities to other members of the royal family, with the exception of the Duke of Edinburgh.
The second principle behind our proposals is flexibility. As I have said, under current arrangements, the Queen receives three different blocks of money: a travel grant from the Department for Transport; a royal palaces and communications grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; and the civil list from the Treasury. That is very inflexible. It means that the royal household cannot set its own priorities and flexibly manage its resources in the course of each year, as any modern organisation would want to do.
I propose abolishing the three separate blocks and merging them into a single grant from the Treasury. As has been the case for many decades, any underspent public money will go into a reserve. This is a sensible arrangement that will allow the royal household to provide for contingencies and to invest in one-off capital projects.
Unlike previous years, however, we are going to have a maximum target on that reserve, so that it never rises above about 50% of the annual grant. This means, for example, that if the annual grant is £34 million, the reserve will be limited to £17 million, which is very much lower than the £37 million that was accumulated in the reserve 10 years ago.
The third principle of our approach is an incredibly important one: accountability to Parliament for the spending of public money, and value for money for the taxpayer. I think that we get excellent value for money from our monarchy. It amounts to 51p per year per person in the United Kingdom, but it is right and proper that Parliament should exercise oversight.
For many years, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have been allowed to conduct value-for-money studies in some areas of royal business, such as travel or palace maintenance, but not to conduct full audits as they do with other Departments. The Bill proposes to change that. From now on, the NAO will have full access and become the statutory auditor of all the royal household’s official business and of the sovereign reserve. It will also be able to audit the assets used by the royal household in carrying out its official business. The National Audit Office will not become the financial auditor of the Queen’s private business, including the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, which remain private funds.
To ensure accountability to Parliament, the sovereign grant accounts will be laid before the House. The Public Accounts Committee will also be able to conduct hearings on the royal finances, with the royal household itself providing evidence at such hearings. That is a big and historic extension of parliamentary scrutiny, and I should like to thank Her Majesty for opening up the books.
We also propose checks and balances on the size of the sovereign grant and the reserve. As I said, the sovereign grant will be set at 15% of Crown Estate revenues, and that percentage will be reviewed every seven years to determine whether it remains appropriate. The review will be conducted by the three current royal trustees, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Keeper of the Privy Purse, and every seven years we will come to Parliament with the proposed review and a recommendation on what it should be.
There cannot be an increase without agreement from Parliament through the affirmative procedure. The royal trustees will also act to make sure that the reserve remains within its 50% cap by reducing the annual grant as required, and of course the Treasury has a responsibility each year for ensuring that the sovereign grant is spent on the official duties that it is supplied to be spent on.
Those arrangements also deal with the potential situation, which some people predict, of an increase in Crown Estate profits from offshore wind activity. Currently, those revenues are running at about £2.5 million per year, but some forecast that they could increase substantially in the 2020s. The 15% formula will be reviewed before that may come about, and we will not allow revenues from offshore wind to lead to a disproportionate rise in revenues to the royal household. We will shortly also set out proposals, unconnected to this legislation, to make sure coastal communities can benefit from the development of the Crown Estate’s marine activities.
Today, we recognise the value of the monarchy and we put its finances on a sustainable long-term footing. I have put forward the principles behind our proposed new sovereign grant, and we will debate those in detail next month. Our aim is to ensure that the sovereign can carry out her official duties effectively and with dignity, while ensuring accountability to Parliament and value for money to the taxpayer. I hope that our proposals receive all-party support, and I commend the motion to the House.
Although I, like other Members, have not yet seen the Bill that we are debating today, I thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for giving me a briefing a full 48 hours in advance of today’s debate. That allowed me to spend yesterday preparing my response and the Chancellor to spend the afternoon at centre court, Wimbledon. I know that he was in a box; I do not know whether it was the royal box, but there we are.
We are debating a very important reform today. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, it is the most significant reform to the financing of the royal household since the accession of King George III in 1760, when building upon the Civil List Act 1697—see, my day yesterday was well spent—tax revenues and Crown land revenues, which were hitherto under the independent control of the sovereign, were surrendered to Parliament in exchange for a civil list then of £800,000.
This is the first time that Parliament has had the chance to debate those matters from first principles since the Civil List Act 1972, and, as the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Anthony Barber, told the Committee of the Whole House:
“I do not believe that the British people want the work of the Royal Family to be cut down. I believe that they want it to be continued and performed by the Royal Family.”—[Official Report, 19 January 1972; Vol. 829, c. 551.]
He had already reminded the House that in debating these matters,
“we are taking decisions about an institution which, just as much as Parliament, is an essential part of our history, our constitution and our way of life.”—[Official Report, 14 December 1971; Vol. 828, c. 292.]
Almost 40 years on, that sentiment will find widespread support across all parts of this House. Replying for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the then shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, was right also to point out:
“The acceptance and the appreciation of the Monarchical function does not preclude proper consideration by this House of how financial provision should be made.”—[Official Report, 14 December 1971; Vol. 828, c. 383.]
Again, that is a sentiment that will command support from all parts of this House.
Reading back over those debates from the early 1970s, it was clear that not everyone in the House supported the changes. Indeed, I noted that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner)—he is not in his seat today—voted against the changes in 1972. I looked for his contribution to the debates, but the Hansard record does not record a speech by my hon. Friend, just a series of documented comments from a sedentary position; some things do not change. At one point, the Member for Chelmsford, a future Leader of the House of Commons, Norman St John-Stevas, remarked that
“criticism of the Monarchy, just as of this House, should be fair and temperate not unfair and prejudiced.”—[Official Report, 21 December 1971; Vol. 828, c. 1357.]
Hansard shows that the newly elected Member for Bolsover simply shouted out, “Why?” It was a relatively tame intervention. My hon. Friend was just at the foothills of what has turned out to be a very fine parliamentary heckling career.
The world, the monarchy and the House have all changed a great deal since the early 1970s. The global demands of the royal household have grown significantly, with all that that entails in security and admin burdens. The monarchy has changed greatly—it is now much more open and more scrutinised than ever before—and Parliament, as the Chancellor said, now has a greater role in scrutinising the finances of the royal household than in the 1970s. Of course, the one unchanging rock across all those turbulent decades has been Her Majesty the Queen herself, whose grace, wisdom and dedicated service to our country are second to none.
I agree with the Chancellor about this. I know that not everyone in this House will agree with what I am going to say, but it is the view of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, as it is the view of the Government, that the monarchy continues, and must continue, to play a vital role in the affairs of our nation in the new century, but that to play this role and to command public support, the royal household must, as the Chancellor said, be financed in a proper, open and fair way, which means fair to the royal household and, as the Chancellor said, fair to the taxpayer too. There is a balance to be struck, as there has been for over 250 years since the 1760 settlement. It is the job of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Government, with the royal household, to strike a fair and workable balance between the legitimate needs of the household and the interests of the taxpayer. It is the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Opposition to scrutinise the actions of the Government to make sure that it is done in a fair and proper way, and it is the job of this Parliament to oversee these matters.
I thank the Chancellor for giving me advance notice of the details; as I said, I have not yet seen the legislation. I want to assure him that although we have questions to ask, it is our intention to support him in reforming the current arrangements. However, it is very important that he seeks to establish a consensus not only across the Dispatch Box but in the country as a whole in support of these reforms. At a time when many families and businesses are under real financial pressure, the Chancellor will need to provide, today or on Second Reading, some more clarity, detail and reassurance on four particular issues that I will set out today in advance of those debates: the level of the sovereign grant; the costs of royal security, which, while not covered by the sovereign grant itself, are material to these matters; the mechanism for uprating the sovereign grant; and how Parliament scrutinises these new arrangements.
On the first issue, the Chancellor and the Treasury will need to provide some more analysis in advance of Second Reading to explain why, in choosing the figure of 15% of the profits of the Crown Estate, they believe they have set the sovereign grant at the right level. I understand that, adjusting for the issue of the drawing down of the reserves, this new arrangement is expected to maintain the current level of spending broadly over the course of this Parliament.
It is right that we ask whether this is the right level of expenditure given the costs, pressures and demands on the royal household. On the one hand, the Queen has managed to deliver a 50% reduction in the total expenditure of the royal household over the past two decades, but has this process of efficiency savings come to an end, or are there further savings that can and should be made? On the other hand, the wonderfully successful wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who start their visit to Canada today, has thrust the younger members of the royal family into the limelight: they are in demand in this country and all round the world. Meanwhile, Her Majesty the Queen’s historic visit to Ireland and the Duke of Edinburgh’s recent birthday celebrations have seen their popularity reach new heights, and this can only increase as we move towards the diamond jubilee next year. This necessarily raises issues of resourcing and security.
The demands on the newly extended royal family are higher than they have ever been, and it is right that we ask whether the level of the royal grant is commensurate with the high tide mark in the royal family’s responsibilities and public appearances. This necessarily raises security issues too. It has been reported that a number of members of the royal family have had their security support downgraded, or in some cases removed. We should ask whether the Chancellor, as part of this process, has examined the impact of these changes on the royal family and on the public purse, and whether they may have gone too far. Does the current security budget meet the needs of the wider royal family in this more demanding environment? At a time when the Home Office and security budget is very stretched and under pressure, it is important that we ask that question.
That takes me to the third issue: the arrangements for the uprating of the sovereign grant. The Chancellor’s proposals imply that the total expenditure of the royal household will fall in real terms from the beginning to the end of the Parliament, but the proposals also imply that spending will, from next year, be rising in cash and in real terms, alongside a 3.2% real-terms rise in the total sovereign grant between now and the end of the Parliament. I understand, too, that the Chancellor is proposing to put a cash floor on the finances of the royal household into the future, by however much the profits from the Crown estates fall. I have to say that this is a generous proposal which suggests that the Chancellor thinks that the efficiency savings have come to an end. We also know that the profits of the Crown Estate could rise. If they rise markedly in future, the House and the country will need an assurance that proper and responsive arrangements are to be put in place.
It is unclear at this stage whether the Chancellor is saying that any increase in revenues over and above the levels that he is currently predicting will automatically be passed into the reserves or could lead to higher expenditure by the royal household. The arrangements that he set out appear to suggest that if expenditure were to rise alongside income, there would not then be an automatic review of the percentage of income allocated through the sovereign grant. If revenues are higher, then rather than waiting a full seven years for a review and risking upward pressure on spending or a repeat of the accumulation of reserves that we saw in the 1990s, is there not a case for a more automatic and immediate formula to return those excess revenues to the taxpayer?
As the Chancellor said, this issue is particularly relevant because the Crown estates are set to see an increase in their income from the exploitation of wind and tidal energy in the coming years. Crown Estate income from the renewables sector grew by 44% to £2.6m in 2009-10 alone. The annual report of the Crown Estate describes current growth as “exponential” and growth over the next 10 years as “significant”. Given the potentially significant change in income from renewables in the coming years, it is important that we ensure that the proposals are robust as regards a significant rise in Crown revenues.
The final issue is parliamentary oversight.
I certainly support the comments of the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor. Is the right hon. Gentleman at all interested in asking for an assurance or some information on whether the proposals are likely to influence the investment strategy of the Crown Estate, and what that might involve? How much income or growth are required are often quite important parts of an estate’s strategy.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important question. It is good that Parliament has an opportunity to scrutinise the proposals in the coming weeks or months. We are in an unusual situation. This debate is not a statement, so it is inappropriate for me to ask questions of the Chancellor today and expect him to respond. The debate is also on a Bill that we have not yet seen, which is obviously awkward. I am in a stronger position to ask detailed questions than everybody else, because I knew some of the content of the proposals in advance, but I do not know all the detail.
Today we are setting out questions and issues on which the Government might want to provide more detail between now and the debate on Second Reading. We will certainly expect more detail and debate then. I am sure that in reaching that deal over past months, the Chancellor and members of the royal household scrutinised the kind of issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. However, we need to find out the detail of that scrutiny, what analysis was looked at before that agreement was reached, and the impact of the proposals on a number of things. I mentioned security and the uprating formula, and the hon. Gentleman asks the very important question of whether the measures will enhance the Crown Estate or deter it from seeking to make new investments. I do not know the answer to that, but it is a good issue for debate.
The right hon. Gentleman is right: this is not a statement. It is a rather archaic procedure, but if it is any consolation, it is a lot less archaic than it was in the early 1970s—through discussions with the Chair, we managed to reduce some of that procedure. I am unable to respond to the points that he makes, but I shall use this intervention to say that I thank him for the support in principle that he has given to the measure. He has asked some good questions, to which I hope to respond on Second Reading, and other hon. Members will raise other issues. I was not able to publish the Bill until this resolution has been passed by the House. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s approach. The debate on Second Reading will be an opportunity for hon. Members to go into the detail of the Bill after they have studied it.
I was in no way criticising the approach that has been taken. I was simply noting the rather odd situation that we are in: I am able to say some things that, potentially, nobody else fully understands because they have not had the briefing from the Chancellor that I had, but I totally understand the Chancellor’s position.
I do not want to say anything inappropriate, but I believe that it is appropriate for me to say that the Prime Minister briefed the Leader of the Opposition on these matters a week ago. The Chancellor requested that I meet him, and we met on Tuesday. The clear view of the House authorities, the Government and the royal household—I do not know exactly who makes such decisions—was that the first public knowledge of the proposals should be the making of the gracious request, which happened yesterday. It was then a matter for the Government to respond the next day, which is where we are. That is the fullest answer I can give, so there we are.
It is welcome that, for the first time, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will have the same powers to audit and scrutinise the royal household as any other Government Department. I am sure that the Chair of the PAC will speak in this debate about that in greater detail. However, there are important issues of detail in respect of how the proposals will work in practice. Will the reports be frequent and timely? Will all necessary information be disclosed to the PAC and Parliament? Who will give evidence to the Committee on those matters?
In June last year, the Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), said:
“If there is to be serious assessment of efficiency and economy and effectiveness (of the monarchy), one has to look at the total income and expenditure. It is difficult to look at just a part.”
That has been our situation in recent years. As the Chancellor says, even before today’s Bill, our situation is a substantial advance from where we were 40 years ago. It is true that the original debate was opened by the Prime Minister and that the Chancellor represented the Government in a Committee of the whole House, but it is also true that that was pretty much the only opportunity for scrutiny of such matters in the previous 40 years. We are therefore in a better place, but the Chair of the PAC is right to say that we need to go further and to do so in a proper way. I hope that we hear from her today, but it is vital that Parliament has the proper information so that it can properly and fully scrutinise such significant sums of revenue.
In conclusion, the Opposition will support the Chancellor in making necessary reforms, but my advice to him is that there is more work to do on providing more detail and reassurance in advance of the debate on Second Reading. It is necessary to build a consensus not only in the House but in the country. The case needs to be made that the reforms represent a secure, balanced and fair way forward for the royal household and the taxpayer in the years to come. We look forward to playing our part in those debates and that scrutiny in the coming weeks and months.
I want to put this debate in the context of Her Majesty’s life of service to this country. As we are all aware, the Queen fulfils a number of duties as Head of State, including her constitutional duties, such as the state opening of Parliament, giving Royal Assent to legislation, carrying out state and royal visits overseas, and receiving state and official visitors. However, the Queen, and indeed the whole royal family, play a much greater role in our society: that of providing a focus for national identity, unity and pride. They recognise success and contribute to our nation through their public service and support for the voluntary sector, which includes many of the unsung heroes in our local communities. The Queen and the royal family also support the vulnerable and highlight the need to help in challenging areas of society.
We need only cast our minds back a couple of months to the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for an illustration of how much the monarchy means to everyone in this country, and indeed across the world. The royal family is a hard-working institution, and we are rightly proud of it in this country. As we heard earlier, the Queen entertains almost 50,000 people per year, not to mention the many thousands of people she visits around the country and the world.
It is difficult to quantify the full benefit of the royal family, not just to tourism and our country’s status abroad, but to our national identity, history and traditions—the things that make us proud to be British. They also support our values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and equality.
More specifically on the motion, the Queen and the royal household currently receive funding from several sources, as we have heard. However, following the agreement made in 1760 in return for the fixed annual payment, Crown lands are managed on behalf of the Government, and the surplus revenue goes to the Treasury. In the last financial year, that amounted to more than £210 million. Let us be clear about this. In the last financial year, the Queen and the royal household received £38.2 million in total from the Government, and paid back to the Treasury £210.7 million in surplus revenue from the management of the Crown Estate. In other words, they contributed a net sum to the Government of £172.5 million. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
Regardless of that net contribution to our economy over the past decade, the Queen and her staff have made significant efforts to make the royal household more efficient, as the Chancellor said. Head of State expenditure has more than halved during that time from the £87.2 million in 1991-92, to £38.2 million in 2009-10, and the projected spend this year of £35 million.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor outlined in the Chamber today, a new sovereign support grant will be introduced to cover funding for the Queen and the royal household. The grant will combine all the sources of funding into one sum covering all the monarchy’s official expenditure, not just the expenditure currently covered by the civil list. This will simplify an overly complex process for allocating funding—one that is haphazard at best. The level of funding will be linked to the Crown Estate’s surplus and will provide levels similar to those currently received. Surpluses and funding will be held in reserve for future years and levels will be protected from falling significantly from previous years. As we heard, full parliamentary scrutiny and audits of all expenditure will continue. The proposals will provide for continuity in the event of the succession of a new monarch so as to ensure certainty and stability for the royal family and household. I believe completely in and support the three principles that the Chancellor outlined.
In summary, the sovereign support grant will give the royal household greater control to manage its funding and continue its efficiency measures. It will also provide clarity, flexibility and longer-term planning, and will make it much easier to communicate the finances of the Queen and the royal household to members of the public. The sovereign grant Bill is consistent with the Government’s quest for greater transparency of funding, which we are trying to get across government, together with increased accountability and focus on achieving value for money for taxpayers. It also, importantly, continues to support the sovereign in the long term in the outstanding contribution that she makes to this country on a daily basis. I therefore support the motion.
I join others in welcoming today’s announcement and the motion put forward by the Chancellor with the agreement of the royal household. Like others, I recognise the fantastic contribution that the Queen and members of the royal family make to the United Kingdom, and acknowledge the respect and warmth that the Queen commands among the British people. Most recently, as others have said, the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge gave us all an uplifting moment of joy, allowing us to celebrate with the royal family on an occasion filled with happiness at a time when so many families are facing difficulties and insecurity in their daily lives.
Clearly, if the Queen and the royal family are to carry out their constitutional duties effectively, they need appropriate funding. Some of this funding comes from the taxpayer, so we need to have in place an open and accountable system. The Chancellor’s announcement today puts the direct support from the taxpayer to the royal family on a transparent footing, which will enable both Parliament and the public to understand how much taxpayer money is being spent annually by the royal family and what it is being spent on. This is undoubtedly an important change for the better, and as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, charged with following the taxpayer’s pound, I warmly welcome it.
I also recognise the historic significance of the changes proposed, and believe it is hugely important for the future stability of the monarchy and its role in our constitutional settlement that we should modernise our structures so that they are fit for purpose in today’s world, and properly meet the legitimate expectations of the taxpayer and the general public. As others have acknowledged, the Queen has acted sensitively and prudently in managing her finances over the past two decades. That is right and proper, and she should be applauded for doing so. She has cut her real-terms expenditure by more than 50% in the past 20 years, and at a time when we are asking every family to tighten their belts, people will be heartened to see that she is playing her part.
The powers proposed in the legislation, as outlined by the Chancellor, are hugely significant for Parliament. The Comptroller and Auditor General will be appointed by statute to audit the sovereign grant accounts and he will be empowered to prepare value for money reports that the PAC can consider. This puts, for the first time, those parts of the royal finances that come directly from the taxpayer each year on a transparent basis, consistent with other public expenditure. The PAC has a long and well-established history of effective public scrutiny, and we will, I am sure, approach these new responsibilities in our traditional way, working objectively and thoroughly on behalf of Parliament and the taxpayer.
We will show no fear or favour. On the one hand, we will not give this new area of our work special treatment, but on the other hand, we will take the issues seriously and ensure that we hold the appropriate accounting officers to proper public account. In our approach, we will examine critically both how the Government allocate funding to the royal family and how the royal family then spend that allocation. As right hon. and hon. Members know, we have a reputation for being straightforward, direct and clear in our recommendations, and I hope that both the Chancellor and the royal household will welcome the new accountabilities and the implications for them. You never know, Mr Deputy Speaker, we might, in years ahead, end up praising the royal household for providing value for money and criticising the Treasury for its meanness. Time will tell.
In this instance, I expect us to take evidence from the Keeper of the Privy Purse and Treasurer to the Queen, Sir Alan Reid. Although the incorporation of the civil list into the new sovereign grant gives us new powers, with new audit and access rights for the Comptroller and Auditor General and new areas for public scrutiny of this expenditure by Parliament, the PAC has in the past examined areas of expenditure by the royal household covered by the grant for royal travel from the Department of Transport and the grant aid for the royal palaces from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
As the Chancellor said, in 2010, £5.4 million was granted for royal travel and £15 million for aid to royal palaces. When the PAC reported on the occupied royal palaces in 2008-09 we found that, although the royal household claimed a £32 million backlog of maintenance work, that figure was not supported by rigorous analysis. We said then that in the absence of a consistent approach to assessing the condition of the Crown Estate and calculating the backlog, and without an assessment of the practical consequences of the backlog, the Department and the household could not be sure how big the problem was or what to do about it. We said that the household should define the criteria for inspecting the condition of the estate, agree with the Department the basis for calculating the maintenance backlog and, before the end of 2009, set out a plan for managing it.
As a result of that recommendation, the household adopted a new system for monitoring the condition of its estate to better manage prioritisation of the maintenance work. In the same report, we noted that the Royal Collection Trust received more than £27 million from visitors to the occupied royal palaces, of which just £1.8 million was passed to the royal household to top up the resources available to maintain the palaces. The report found that the arrangement by which money paid by visitors to the palaces went to fund the trust dated from 1850. Clearly times have changed. More palaces have opened to the public and hundreds of thousands of tourists visit them each year, yet only a fraction of the income generated has, in the past, been used to maintain the palaces. The amount paid to the household is at the discretion of the trust, but some staff of the household are also involved with the trust and have potential conflicts of interest.
We said that the Department should work with the household and the trust to revise the arrangements for the collection and distribution of visitor income to reflect the fact that visitors come to see the palaces as well as the works of art in them. In response, the royal household announced a new arrangement under which, in 2009-10, the trust started paying an amount to the royal household in respect of visitors to Buckingham palace, which again helps offset public funding.
To give another example, following a visit by the then Public Accounts Committee to Kensington palace on the back of a report on maintaining royal palaces, the Queen agreed to pay rent—initially £60,000 a year, rising to £120,000 a year—for the Prince and Princess of Kent’s apartment at Kensington palace from her own income. We understand that from 2010 the Prince and Princess of Kent will remain at their apartment but will pay the rent from their own funds.
Those have been our past successes. In future, we might well want to look at a new range of issues, such as whether the royal estate is being used in the most cost-effective and efficient way, with the royal household maximising the potential for income from commercial lettings, and whether maintenance work is being properly prioritised given the backlog. On travel, we might also look at the cost-effectiveness of the options chosen by the royal household—for example, between road, rail and air—to ensure that best value for taxpayers’ money is secured.
On the former civil list, we might want to examine procurement, staffing costs or expenditure on receptions and entertainment. Having listened to the Chancellor’s welcome statement, I would appreciate it if he dealt with a number of issues that I believe arise. He has said that the sovereign grant will be reviewed every seven years. As I understand his statement, he will be taking new powers to reduce the sovereign grant year on year if the income from the Crown Estate exceeds his expectations. I understand that such a power does not exist at present and I would be grateful if he confirmed that it will be a new power. A similar issue arises on the income that the royal household receives from opening the palaces and the royal art collection to the public. How in those circumstances will any increase in income be treated in determining the sovereign grant?
Finally, today’s proposals deal with the annual income received by the Queen from the taxpayer, but we need to ensure that the public interest in all the assets and estates held by the monarch on behalf of the public is accounted for in a transparent and consistent way. This is particularly important in these stringent times when we are asking so much from hard-working families. I would be grateful if the Chancellor addressed this issue in his reply.
I warmly welcome today’s announcement by the Chancellor. This is a truly historic occasion. For the first time ever, we are placing the royal expenditure financed by the taxpayer on a proper footing—transparent for all to see and consistent with all other public expenditure. This is a sensible act of modernisation that I am sure will be welcomed by Members on both sides of the House and by the general public at large. It will help to ensure continuing admiration and support for the Queen and for the role she plays in our constitutional arrangements.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), who is the current Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. Under my chairmanship and hers, the Committee has for many years fought a relentless campaign on this issue, but I never thought this day would come. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has risen to such distinction, but I remember his being a member of our Committee when he was a very new, young Member of Parliament, and he may recall a visit we made to Kensington palace together. The trouble with dealing politically with royal family matters—I know this from my many years of chairing the Public Accounts Committee—is that whereas an incredibly worthy report about tens of millions of pounds, or even hundreds of millions of ponds, being wasted in the Department for Work and Pensions will end up only on page 15 of the Financial Times, if we are lucky, something involving the royal family gets much more interest. I think that the visit we made to Kensington palace was on pages 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Daily Mail. There is enormous public interest where the royal family is concerned.
My right hon. Friend is to be commended for being the first Chancellor of the Exchequer to have the guts to take this issue on and deal with it. As I said, I thought this day would never come. When we started this campaign and really tried to gear it up, we were looking at three areas in which we thought that parliamentary accountability was absolutely vital: the royal family and all aspects of royal finances, the BBC and the Bank of England. Those three great institutions stand without Parliament and we were told for all sorts of reasons why it was quite inappropriate for the National Audit Office to crawl all over their accounts. It has been like pushing water uphill, but I think that after many years and many bloody battles we are going to drag the BBC to full accountability—and not a moment too soon. That is quite right. Again, I commend the Chancellor for what he is doing. The Bank of England is a more difficult issue and we are still struggling on that, but we have a great victory today. For the first time since this modern settlement was made in 1760, Parliament will, through the Public Accounts Committee, be able to scrutinise all aspects of royal finances.
Although there has been great resistance to this proposal, I have to say that in all my many conversations with the royal household I never detected any resistance from it. I think it has been Governments who have worried about certain republicans on the Public Accounts Committee crawling over the royal finances. I should like to pay tribute to a great and wonderful parliamentarian, who has not been mentioned yet and who is a personal friend of mine—Mr Alan Williams, a former Father of the House, who served with great distinction for many years on the Committee. We all know that he gave the royal finances a good going over. Unfortunately, another personal friend of mine, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), is not here, but I am sure that if he were still on the Committee he, too, would be giving the finances a good going over.
This will be tough for the royal household—there is no doubt about that—and there will be strong questioning in the Committee, as there is on all these subjects, but that is absolutely right because that is what we are about: accountability. I think they have absolutely nothing to fear. As the shadow Chancellor made clear—we do not need to labour this point, because we all know it so well—the Queen has throughout her reign acted with incredible grace and wisdom and with such enormous constitutional propriety. We know all that, but what is not so well appreciated—certainly not by the general public and perhaps not by many Members of Parliament—are the enormous strides that the household has made in delivering efficiency savings and cutting costs. I am pretty confident that when the Committee, working with the National Audit Office, is allowed to crawl over the accounts, it will find a first-rate, modern institution.
It is unfortunate that up to now the Committee has been able to deal only with royal travel and palaces and not with the rest. That seemed a strange state of affairs. We managed to save the royal train, by the way, which is, in terms of modern accountability, a fantastically wasteful but noble instrument of royal travel. [Interruption.] It is necessary. It is so old that it can only travel at night.
Well, some stingy previous Government, whom I will not mention by name, got rid of the royal yacht. What a tragedy. It is not the working part of the constitution but it is an important part. As for the royal train, it is quite right that this wonderful elderly lady should sometimes be allowed to sleep on the royal train so that when she visits Newcastle or Manchester she can wake up and perform her duty refreshed, and not be forced out of bed at 5 am to take a plane. We saved the royal train; that, I think, is something that the PAC achieved.
The PAC, then, will not cause any unnecessary trouble. Although I cannot speak for the new Committee, I have great respect for the right hon. Member for Barking, and I know that she will handle the matter in an effective and completely non-partisan way. I am sure that the Committee will do a wonderful job.
Before I finish, I want to say something about royal palaces. We paid that visit to Kensington palace, and we visited Buckingham palace. We found a lot of peeling wallpaper there—there was a lot of under-investment.
Yes. This is the Head of State. She should not be in a palace that is falling down, and we should not be mean and stingy about that. I think that the Government had been a bit stingy. Perhaps these new arrangements will allow her to look after her palaces better.
There is one scandal that I want to raise: Frogmore, the royal mausoleum. It is falling down. As I understand it, under the new arrangements there will be an opportunity for the royal household to have greater control of its own affairs so that it can rehabilitate Frogmore, which is an important national monument and in an appalling state. It is a national scandal that the mausoleum for Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort is in such a derelict state that the public can no longer be admitted. That shows some of the problems with the royal finances. The Queen and her household have been making enormous strides in creating efficiency savings, but they simply have not had the independence or the resources to try to maintain the whole of the estate. It is vital for the nation that they be allowed to do so.
In conclusion, I warmly commend the Chancellor, and say well done for finally getting parliamentary accountability. We now want to continue doing battle with the BBC and the Bank of England, and make sure that this Parliament can audit all aspects of our national finances.
I, too, broadly welcome what has been said today. It is a credit to Her Majesty that she has agreed to what the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) said is a revolutionary change, bringing openness and transparency to the royal accounts. Having tried to get the expenses of BBC executives and certain producers made public, I totally agree with him about the BBC. It resists freedom of information tooth and nail. If it is good enough for the palace, I am sure that it is good enough for the BBC.
I accept that today’s statement is a strange way to proceed and that the debate will come later, but there are questions that need to be asked. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) said that if the royal accounts are to have full transparency, we have to look at them in total, not only at the civil list as it is now or at the new sovereign grant. As the Chancellor said, it is ridiculous that we pay the royal household money and then pay it back to ourselves, which is very inefficient administration.
If we are to get an idea of the full costs, we need to see what Departments pay the royal household in other ways. I give an example from the Ministry of Defence, which rents certain properties from the royal household, including the Chief of the Defence Staff’s current apartments in Kensington palace, which costs the MOD £108,000 a year. There is also military support for the royal household. That, too, comes from the MOD budget, but is vital to the workings of the household and to supporting Her Majesty in her duties. If we are to have full transparency we need to know what that costs. There is an argument to be had about whether some of the costs that fall on the MOD should come out of that budget. If we are to have a look at expenditure overall, it is important that that is taken into account. My right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor mentioned security, which should also be included.
The general point of the proposals is to get consensus both in the House and across the country that not only are we getting good value for money from the expenditure, but we are accounting for it all. Certainly, it is very welcome that the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will be looking at the entire issue.
Something that will come out in the Bill is the way the fund will work in practice. I am not quite clear how the 15% formula will work. In some years the amount will go up, and in others it will go down, and I accept that there has to be a floor; we do not want the royal household suddenly to find that it does not have enough in-year money. I am, however, a little concerned about the idea of allowing it to build up a surplus. It was reported today in The Daily Telegraph that the Treasury is looking at a yearly cap on that figure, which I think would be better than allowing the royal household to build up a surplus over the seven-year period, which many people would criticise. I ask the Chancellor to look at an annual cap on the investment that comes from the Crown Estate, because otherwise the current efficiency drives might not continue.
I accept that giving the royal household more flexibility in how it spends the money is sensible, but there must also be some debate on who benefits from the current civil list and who will benefit from the new sovereign grant. Will it just be left to the royal household to decide which members of the royal family benefit? That will need to be clarified in the Bill, because there is clearly a public perception that some people on the civil list do not deserve the support they receive, and that needs to be looked at. Having said that, I know from my time at the Ministry of Defence that many of the minor royals do a lot of work to support armed forces charities and others. They do not get a great deal of publicity but should be commended, and it is important that that should be allowed to continue.
I broadly welcome the proposals and look forward to the Bill, but if we are to have proper scrutiny of what the royal household costs, it should include everything. I ask the Chancellor to look carefully at the MOD’s budget, which I know he is already doing, and to consider whether it is realistic that we pay it money that is then paid out to the royal household for something that is not a core military task but which is important to the household.
Much of what I wish to say has already been said. I congratulate the Chancellor on what seems to be the beginnings of an elegant solution to a difficult problem. I wish to make three quick points for him. First, on the matter of principle, it is extremely important that the process does not become a formula that is reviewed annually which puts the whole of the household's finances into play on an annual basis. Whatever method is used for the calculations, it must be robust enough, as the previous debates that the shadow Chancellor cited made clear, to allow the dignity of the Crown across a period of time. That is an important principle.
Secondly, as other Members have suggested, we should consider exactly what we mean by the profit, because students of the Crown Estate’s annual finances will know that that is a highly variable figure, depending on the point at which we decide to look. It depends on whether it is the operating profit and whether there are movements in surpluses. There is one number that we might look at, which is not necessarily a profit but relates most closely to what might be regarded as the surplus cash within the Crown Estate: the annual remittance to the Treasury, which last year was £200 million or so. That is the figure that the Crown Estate remits to the Treasury, having considered what it wishes to withhold for future investment and having regard to the various discrepancies that come in the statement of total recognised gains and losses. The Chancellor might wish to look at that percentage, rather than a particular profit figure, and perhaps it could be made clear whether the grant is intended to be supplemental to that £200 million or part of it.
My final point relates to the Chancellor’s comment on the potential income from marine renewable energy, including wind, tidal and wave energy. It is rather curious that that sits within the Crown Estate at all. If we look at the precedent of the Forestry Commission, which was created in 1919, and to which the Crown Estate forests were transferred in 1923, we will see that it might be worth considering whether the marine estate should be transferred in its entirely out of the Crown Estate and possibly given to all the local authorities on the coast that could benefit from what is going on. That might be an interesting way of giving a direct benefit to local authorities on the coast, where marine energy could form the bedrock of a future economy, without having to trouble the Chancellor. I leave that little thought with him and again congratulate him on what looks like the beginnings of a very elegant solution to an old problem.
The sight of the British Head of State bowing her head in respect at Croke park to those who had been murdered by the British Army was a symbol of profound potency. She also paid her respects to the many thousands of soldiers from the Republic who died in the first world war. She visited the English market in Cork, which a number of us have visited recently, and that has had a practical benefit for the area. I believe that that visit will help to heal the deep wounds between the Republic and ourselves. The Queen has a splendid and unblemished record of service as the Head of State, and I do not want to stray into saying that she does not. She has rightly earned the respect of us all. However, some of the hyperbole this afternoon, which we always have on these occasions, goes a little too far.
Last year, Prince Charles increased the amount of taxpayers’ money he spent by 18% and his personal spending went up by 50%. That was at a time when his 159 staff had their wages frozen. We must look carefully at the royal finances. I found it an Alice-in-Wonderland concept for the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) to say that one of the great achievements of the Public Accounts Committee was to save a bit of money on transport that he described as fantastically wasteful. I think that we must apply the same financial discipline to the royal family that we apply to the poorest in society.
There should be a distinction, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), between the way we treat the monarch, because of her role, and other members of the royal family. Perhaps we could be a bit more critical in the way in which we work out the benefit of visits from minor members of the royal family to charities and set that alongside the security and military costs that are incurred. That does not happen now.
It is not true to say that support for the monarchy as an institution is universal in this country. I come from a constituency where the last insurrection that tried to set up a republic took place in 1839. The 20 people who died in that insurrection are honoured every year. There are people in this country who are happy to describe themselves as republicans, although the figure varies. It was about 45% at the time of the death of Princess Diana and it goes down to about 25%. Those people have a credible view that should be heard.
We had little prior knowledge of this debate. I had no idea that it was happening today. There seems to be an acceptance of this matter without a knowledge of the fine details. I urge that we find a simpler solution, because the one we have seems to be very complex. There is income from various sources, some of which are controlled and some not. Perhaps we could apply a system similar to the one that I urged hon. Members to use for ourselves some years ago in supporting a motion tabled by Chris Mullin, which was that the salaries of hon. Members should be linked to changes in the basic state pension, so that if there was an increase in the basic state pension, our salaries would increase, and if it was frozen, our salaries would be frozen. I believe that a simple mechanism of that type would be acceptable to the country as a whole, and it would be beneficial to the House because it would give us a greater interest in the level of the basic state pension. It would be interesting to put a cap on future payments for the civil list, and if it was linked to a mechanism like that, whether based on the retail prices index or the consumer prices index, it would be possible to understand it. It is essential that the royal family should face the same financial discipline as every other family in the land.
Of course the royal family have done many beneficial things recently, particularly raising money from the royal palaces. However, it is worth remembering that the most profitable royal palace in Europe is Versailles, and they have had rather a different attitude to royalty in France from the one that we have had here. However, that is not essential.
The royal family are in the position that we cannot attack them or say anything critical. That is the rule in the House, which we accepted some seven centuries ago. We know the recent history, with the behaviour of certain members of the royal family having been widely criticised in the press, but it is impossible for us to make any derogatory remarks about them here. I believe that we should remove that gag, not because we wish to criticise the Head of State but so that when minor members of the royal family are extravagant or outrage the public by their standards of behaviour, we in the House have the freedom to be critical of them.
May I personally commend and congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer not only for taking the initiative in this matter, which has been pressing for many years, but for making excellent and historic improvements to the current arrangements, which have been unsustainable for some time?
The royal family are one of the few departments of Government—just about the only thing that the Government funds, I would suggest—that make a profit for the taxpayer. They brought into the revenues of the Treasury something in the region of £200 million than was paid out last year. That was a profit for the taxpayer in raw figures. It has also been estimated that one weekend, the weekend of the recent royal wedding, brought hundreds of millions of pounds into the Revenue in tourism, merchandise sales and the like. That profit for the taxpayer is well worth sustaining.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about tourism and other matters that provide a net contribution, but surely under the settlement of the 1760s we cannot really consider the Crown Estate as still being owned by the royal family. It was given up so that it could produce the money for the state that it currently does. I would not look at it in the same terms as the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman may not, but others may choose to do so. In fact, I happen to think that the 1760 arrangements were an historic injustice to King George III and his heirs and successors. There is every reason to say that if the hon. Gentleman is not happy with the arrangements being proposed, perhaps the royal family could sustain having 100% back.
Now my hon. Friend is tempting me.
It is important to bear in mind, as Professor Vernon Bogdanor has stated in one of his treatises on subject—“The Monarchy and the Constitution”, I think—that it costs about the same to run the royal family as it does to run the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea. I venture to suggest that the royal family attract far greater support from the British public than most institutions.
The issues at stake are important, and they are: fairness, accountability and transparency, and the necessary flexibility, which has not been built into the system to this point. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has pointed out, the previous system, although not that old, was quite frankly archaic, bureaucratic and burdensome. It was also inflexible, so that if money was saved in one department—for example, in travel arrangements—it could not be spent on, say, repairing a leaking roof. The previous arrangements were unnecessarily bureaucratic, and they urgently needed reform to save taxpayers’ money and to save time. They also needed to be more accountable and transparent, which is what these necessary reforms will achieve.
If we take the trouble to look at how the money is spent, we see, for example, that £400,000 is spent on communications. I venture to suggest that much of that money is spent on communication with members of the public who write in to the palaces, and on other necessary duties, such as inviting to garden parties the tens of thousands of people—and it is, in fact, tens of thousands—who enjoy and appreciate visiting the royal households by invitation every year. This money is not spent on trifles; it is spent for the general public’s enjoyment.
The same thing goes for the palaces. Much of the expenditure goes on the maintenance of royal palaces. I venture to suggest that not even the few republican diehards whom we might find in this House would propose that the royal palaces be knocked down after the abolition of the monarchy and car parks built in their stead. Even in the absence of a monarchy—may God forfend—those palaces would have to be maintained. They might be museums or something similar, but they would still need the maintenance that they need now. In fact, they have been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair because of the lack of funds, which only makes it more expensive to repair them.
I also support the modernising arrangements as they relate to the Duchy of Cornwall. That is welcome, because in future the heir to the royal house will be able to secure funds and revenue from the Duchy of Cornwall without necessarily being male—that is, without being the Duke of Cornwall. That is important and follows other reforms, in the tradition of the Demise of the Crown Act 1901. Formerly, offices of the state were cancelled on the demise of the Crown. However, the various Acts that Parliament has seen fit to pass over the past 100 years or so have meant that such positions—ministerial positions, judicial appointments and the like—could continue. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s further reform, making it necessary only for an Order in Council after the completion of one reign and the beginning of another, simply follows in that historic tradition.
I commend these measures, and I support them in full. I congratulate the Chancellor on bringing them forward, and I invite Members of this House to consider supporting Her Majesty in her 60th jubilee gift, which the House is currently considering.
This has been a most enjoyable debate. With the need to refurbish some of the royal households with up-to-date wallpaper, we have learned that the fortunes of Osborne & Little might now increase. We heard from my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor some historical evidence of our hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) making interventions from a sedentary position when this issue was last discussed in the 1970s. People listening to this debate from outside this place might have felt that some of the speeches by right hon. and hon. Members were delivered not so much from a sedentary position but, as it were, from a kneeling position, if that were possible in the House. I would say gently to the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) that some of us think that the land in this country that is not in specific private ownership belongs to the people. For us, the notion that the royal family is signing generous cheques to the taxpayer sits a little oddly.
I want to raise one substantial point today. The Chancellor and the shadow Chancellor said that we needed to look back to 1760, but if my history—learned from Linda Colley and other historians of the period—serves me right, it was actually a cunning manoeuvre by the late King George III that substantially increased royal revenues, rather than the act of generosity that it is sometimes presented as. One part of the motion, which I think the House will support, that worries me conceptually is the notion that the time of transition from one monarch to another is not the time for reflection on the arrangements that we want for our Head of State. The notion that we are going to write down a settlement that cannot be debated for another 200 years might therefore need some reflection on Second Reading.
I respect the Queen and I have travelled with other members of the royal family, although I hate the term “minor royals”—it is offensive to the very hard-working men and women who give a lot of their time to public service. If I can, I always welcome in person any of them who come to my constituency, because they are always well received and well liked. Her Majesty came to the Advance Manufacturing Centre in Catcliffe with Prince Philip last November and stood for an hour asking good questions. I was amazed at her stamina and her presence; the visit really cheered up all the people there. This just goes to show that 85 really is the new 55.
None the less, how does one justify 159 butlers, valets, cooks, dressers, housekeepers and the rest for Prince Charles? [Interruption.] We are all reading the memoirs written by the father of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) in The Times, and there is a lovely entry today about how he and Rupert Murdoch managed to cheer up the Queen at a lunch back in the 1970s; I would not have minded eavesdropping on that. But why on earth, when we keep a royal flight, is Prince Charles taking a jet trip from Mr Joe Allbritton, who is not British at all but some kind of American oligarch and millionaire—
No, I will finish. Individual names are being attached to what is being said, and that is not what we should be doing. This is a general debate on the civil list, and we should not refer to individual members of the royal family or to individual amounts spent.
I said that I accept your ruling fully, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I will not say another word, save that—[Laughter.] If it is in order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I should like to say that it is not right for this debate to take place in the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent but not on the Floor of the House. That is all.
I actually believe that a plane should be made available for the use of senior Government Ministers, including the PM. He had to scrounge a lift from Prague to Brussels with the Czech President the other day. He got something out of it, but frankly, every senior Minister in most democracies has that mode of transport available to them. Our planes are continually available to any member of the royal family, while elected Ministers come second.
We then have the problem of explaining why the present monarch and the next one are such giant landowners. Is that an issue that we might be able to debate, Mr Deputy Speaker?
Of course we all enjoyed the royal wedding celebration this year and we will enjoy the diamond jubilee next year. Roman emperors promised their subjects panem et circenses: the current Government are doing their best to reduce the quota of panem with their cuts and cruelties imposed on the poor and handicapped, but they are increasing the availability of circenses through the royal shows.
I do not believe that there is any kind of republican mood in the country. It was interesting to hear the oleaginous loyalty, if I may put it that way, expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who had a tremendous enthusiasm for the monarchy, which has surprised many of us. I remember the silver jubilee in Rotherham in 1978, when I am told that 41,000 Union Jack flags were sold in the socialist republic of South Yorkshire.
If we look at the European Union, we see that the states that are monarchies—Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and even, with all its troubles, Spain—enjoy less partisan and less conflictual politics. When it comes to growth, distribution and a fair social settlement since the second world war, we find that the EU’s monarchies generally have a much better record than the EU’s republics. The royal families, however, are also much cheaper there. In Spain, with its King, Queen and wonderful royal palace where I had the privilege and honour of having dinner with the Crown Prince of the Asturias and the lovely Princess—and Prince Charles—a few weeks ago— [Interruption.] The food was free, but I paid for my own air fare. The total cost of the whole Spanish monarch is €8.4 million, while the Queen of the Netherlands gets by on €828,000.
I ask only that we do some comparative analysis before simply continuing with an arrangement that, even with the Chancellor’s proposed modernisations, remains deeply anachronistic.
Surely we should make a comparison with other major countries. In fact, the cost of the Queen bears favourable comparison with the cost of the Italian and the German Presidents—and who has ever heard of them, and what do they do for their country in comparison with our Queen?
I do not really want to get into discussions about German lineages. I recall a previous German President who actually walked the length and breadth of Germany in his summer holiday, and he did not receive anything remotely like what we pay our official Head of State.
It is interesting to note that Scotland’s First Minister, Mr Salmond, has ditched his party’s original republicanism and now asserts that an independent Scotland—if that unlikely event were to take place—would keep the monarch as its Head of State. However, I would like to see any future monarch living a lifestyle in tune and in touch with that of the nation. We can see the Duke of Cambridge, who serves with RAF officers, and his wife living a lifestyle much closer to that of the rest of the nation.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to people who have ditched their republicanism. Will he join me in welcoming the decision of the Sinn Fein mayor in the Irish Republic who welcomed Her Majesty and shook her hand—despite Gerry Adams’s advice to do otherwise—showing an increasing acceptance of the monarchy everywhere?
A law throughout my entire life has been that if Mr Gerry Adams advises anybody to do anything, they will be on the safest ground if they do the opposite.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, or the Chair of any other Select Committee could examine the high levels of expenditure that we have discussed this afternoon. I am sure that the Bill will go through without opposition, but if the monarchy is to continue in future years—after the time of Her Majesty—some things will have to change.
I welcome the Bill and the way in which it is being presented, and I think that the Opposition are handling the matter as they should, but a wider debate is needed. Let me say again—not on my knees—that there is nothing that can be discussed in our newspapers, pubs and meeting rooms that cannot also be discussed, in full detail, in this our House of Commons.
Unlike the shadow Chancellor, I have not spent the last 48 hours carefully considering what to say in the debate, so I shall keep my remarks short. I have not been enjoying the tennis either; my mind has been occupied with other matters.
I welcome the approach that the Chancellor has outlined, and the prospect of the longer debate that we shall have on Second Reading when the Bill has been published. I want to place on record, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, the affection and esteem in which Her Majesty the Queen is held throughout the country. Every time I visit a primary school in my constituency, two questions are entirely predictable, and have been asked throughout the last decade. They are “Do you know the Prime Minister?” and “Have you met the Queen?”. There is a subtle but profound difference between those questions, which shows that young children can be very perceptive about the relative influence of Members of Parliament and the Queen. The Queen has visited the city of Bristol many times throughout her reign, and has always been warmly received.
Although I welcome the Chancellor’s approach, I think there is an important point to be made about the future finances of the monarchy. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) said about the importance of transparency. The reformed system of financing the Head of State—and this may be the first major reform since the accession of George III —must be transparent and open to scrutiny. Three years ago we discovered in a very painful way that resisting transparency does no institution in our land any good, and I believe that the institution of the monarchy will be enhanced by transparency over its financing.
Both the right hon. Member for Barking and her predecessor as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee referred to the royal palaces. Thanks to the initiative of Mr Speaker, this palace is now open on more occasions during the year so that members of the public can come and see the place with which we are so familiar, but Buckingham palace is still only open for one month a year, except to those who are fortunate enough to be invited there for a formal occasion. I hope that consideration will be given to whether it would be possible for grand places such as, in particular, Buckingham palace to be open to the public on more days during the year. That would both enhance the income of the royal palaces and the royal arts collection and enable more people from all over the country to see what is probably the most famous building in the world.
I look forward to our Second Reading debate and to perhaps making a longer contribution on that occasion.
I speak as—I hope—a radical democrat who really believes that sovereignty resides with the people and should be only cautiously delegated to Crowns and perhaps even Parliaments. Nevertheless, I declare myself a monarchist, not just for sentimental reasons but because I believe that the monarchy performs an important role as an impartial focus for national sentiment at a time when public confidence in other public institutions, with which we are of course familiar, may be seen as being at an all-time low. Moreover, it is clear—certainly from the celebrations of the royal wedding day in my constituency—that royal occasions provide a terrific excuse for a party which will make people feel good, and that must be a good thing at a time when we are increasingly measuring national well-being as well as simple economic indicators.
Let me say to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) that I consider those to be rather better justifications for the civil list and the spending of public money on the monarchy than the fact that monarchy offers better value for money than the DVLA, which I think is a dangerous road on which to embark. Obviously affection for, and confidence in, the monarchy has been reinforced by the conduct of the current Queen, who has performed her role over many decades with enormous dignity and professionalism. It is important that the monarchy has also moved with the times, not least by responding appropriately to the recent austere financial situation in which this country finds itself. I am therefore very supportive of the Chancellor’s announcement.
I think that is a rather inappropriate question actually, but I was strongly inclined to do so, although it might be a rather expensive window, so if we can bring the cost down a bit, that might be appropriate.
I was making the important point that it is entirely right to bring greater audit and transparency to the arrangements for the Head of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) said that too, and he is also absolutely right that public money and public confidence must go together. However, some issues remain to be tackled if we are to maintain that confidence over future generations for the Queen’s heirs and successors.
I am pleased that the Minister for Equalities is sitting on the Front Bench as well as the Chancellor, because I want to discuss the issue of absolute cognatic primogeniture. I am not referring here to the situation of Catholics in the succession, which is simple in terms of equalities but rather complicated in terms of the role of the Church of the England as the state Church; that raises all sorts of issues. The issue of succession to the Crown by women in order of birth is important, however. Without wanting to cause any embarrassment to Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it is an issue on which we have a window of opportunity that may close in a year or so.
This was an issue in Sweden in the 1980s, when the birth of an infant daughter following the birth of the young Crown Prince Carl Philip meant that it became a question of disinheriting a young heir to the throne. It would be unfortunate if we were to go down that path in this country, so if we want generally to modernise the monarchy, now would be a good moment for this issue to be addressed alongside the financial issues. We could then look forward to future generations of the monarchy enjoying the same affection and confidence as Her Majesty the Queen.
I know there is a great wish to debate Epping forest, a matter of enormous interest, so I will try not to be unduly long-winded.
So far in the debate, we have missed a crucial point. We have just focused on the cost of the monarchy, but our sovereign represents the greatest institution in our land; it is that bit that makes us British, and we do not want a mean monarchy. We want a proper and well-funded monarchy, not a bicycling monarchy, even if riding the Mayor of London’s bicycles.
The subject of this debate encapsulates the connection the monarchy gives us to our history. What did the Commons spend its time debating in the 16th century? It spent its time debating that the King should live of his own: that the King—Henry VIII for much of that era—should be able to use his own resources to provide for all he needed to spend. This debate returns us to that same principle.
The Crown Estate provides an extraordinary link with our history. We could probably find some acre of the Crown Estate somewhere—probably in Somerset—that was the property of Alfred the Great, but we would certainly find that there was property in the Crown Estate that came with William the Conqueror and from the dissolution of the monasteries. St James’s palace started as a leper colony founded by Queen Margaret in, I think, 1118. It was then part of the endowment of Eton college, which was, very tactfully, given back to the Crown by Eton when Henry VIII said, “If you don’t give it back, I’m going to dissolve you.” [Interruption.] That was a missed opportunity, I think some on the Labour Benches are saying. The Crown Estate is an extraordinary link with our history, which is what makes us the country—the United Kingdom—that we are. Some attack that and say, “We want a good value monarchy.” That makes Her Majesty sound as though she is something to be bought off the top shelf at Tesco, and it really cannot be how we wish to approach our constitution. The Crown is an essential element of that constitution; everything of importance that happens is done in the name of the Crown.
The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) said that he wanted the royal family to be treated as any other family but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) pointed out, if they were any other family they would not be paying such a high tax rate. Given the 15% provision, Her Majesty will be expected to pay an 85% tax rate, which is more than the 50% tax rate that many of us hope will go over the course of this Parliament.
Over the years we were kept in ignorance of the royal tax rates and it was only as a result of a campaign in this House about 12 years ago that we were given any information at all about this. I would welcome it if the hon. Gentleman is asking for full transparency on the royal taxes, but I am not sure that that is part of the suggestion before us today.
I clearly have not asked for full transparency on the royal tax affairs. Indeed, I would argue for the precise opposite, because I do not think it is particularly sensible to be investigating in close detail how the royal family spend their money. I recall a line about motes and beams; we have had quite a problem with our own expenditure in this House and I am not sure that we have got things entirely right. Before we start criticising the monarchy and looking over every biscuit that the Queen buys, we should make sure that we have our own house in order.
I would most certainly not be recommending that IPSA comes anywhere near our sovereign.
When the Crown Estate was granted in 1760 by George III, at the same time as he gave up his claim as King of France, the monarchy was in deficit and it needed extra money to fulfil the functions that were being fulfilled. Some of those functions were greater than those now paid for by the civil list. That is all certainly true, although Parliament would vote excess resources to pay for things such as the Army, so my hon. and noble friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) was not entirely fair on the point about paying for the Army.
Now the Crown Estate is in substantial surplus and I think that the Chancellor, in his proposals, which in many ways are very good, may be being somewhat canny, because the next sovereign would be able to cancel this arrangement and say, “I should like £200 million a year, thank you very much.” There is no requirement on a new sovereign to agree to hand the Crown Estate over in return for a civil list. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) said that this is taxpayers’ money and not the Crown’s money, but it really is the Crown’s money because, on becoming King, the Prince of Wales or any other sovereign could simply rescind the agreement and claim it back. The Crown Estate is the sovereign’s property, which the sovereign gives to Parliament to help to pay for the costs of the nation; it is not taxpayers’ money that is being handed over. [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) want me to give way?
No, he is going to let me carry on. As a result of what I have described the Queen is paying a higher rate of tax than anybody else. We should remember that and I hope that the Chancellor will be generous. I would like the 15% provision to be increased because we want to have a glamorous monarchy that befits the status of our nation. We are a great nation, a noble nation and a nation that has had power across the globe in the past. We have one of the finest histories of any country in the world. When I see the coronation coach being pulled through the streets of London, I want to see it being pulled by the finest horses that money can buy and I want to see it gilded with the finest gold that can be bought. I want Her Majesty to have as a jubilee present the finest window that can be funded by Members of Parliament. That is the status of monarchy that we want and I urge the Chancellor to remember that. Even though I know that we are in this time of austerity, that we are all in it together and that the Opposition spent all the money, maxed out the credit card and so on, we should look after Her Majesty.
How on earth do I follow that, Mr Deputy Speaker?
We have had an interesting debate and, as has been said, this is just the start of the process. It is an unusual process, given that we have not yet had sight of the Bill and that this is a preliminary debate. The debate has ranged from yachts, trains and the prospect of the monarch taking out a Boris bike for the day to other important issues that are perhaps slightly off-topic, such as primogeniture, succession and whether first-born females and Catholics will one day be able to take precedence in succeeding to the throne. We heard from the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that St James’s palace was once a leper colony that was given to Eton. By the time the Bill goes into Committee—I very much hope that he will be a member of that Committee—I might have worked up a gag about that. I am still working on it at the moment.
As we have heard, the demands on the royal household are vastly different today from when the House last discussed the issue. The financing arrangements are largely unchanged since 1760. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has made clear, we welcome the opportunity to discuss the new sovereign support grant, which we feel will be better equipped to meet the royal household’s needs. We will support the Chancellor in reforming the arrangements although, as he would expect, we will ask questions and will want to know in detail how the arrangements will work.
Efforts have already been made to ensure that grant support to the royal household is fair to the taxpayer in the context of wider Government spending and we welcome them, too. Last year, the Chancellor announced in his spending review that support for the royal household would be frozen at £30 million in 2011-12 and 2012-13 before the new arrangements are put in place. That will necessitate a 14% reduction in royal household expenditure in 2012-13.
We have also heard from a number of speakers about the significant efficiency savings made by the royal household in recent years, although the hon. Member for North East Somerset also expressed the view that the monarchy should not go down the Tesco value route, which led my hon. Friends to ask about the Lidl—or Aldi—monarchy. I suspect that that those are not places where the hon. Gentleman often shops.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) asked whether the efficiency savings would be a continuing process or whether the end of the road had already been reached, with all the savings being made that could be made. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) highlighted some points where further savings could be made and I hope that that will be addressed when the Bill goes to Committee.
As hon. Members have said, the Treasury’s choice of a level of 15% of the revenues of the Crown Estate needs proper scrutiny. The Chancellor said that that figure was chosen to maintain the current level of expenditure, or something in that ballpark, to the end of this Parliament. It has been estimated that 15% of the Crown Estate profits would provide some £37.5 million a year, 25% higher than the total grants that are currently provided. As a number of right hon. and hon. Members have said, we need to consider the appropriate level of expenditure for the royal family. There might be a case for increasing that amount and we must consider carefully how demands on the royal household have changed. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor said in his opening speech, the pressures on the royal household from issues such as security have increased greatly.
There could also be a case for reducing the royal grant if, for example, there were further efficiency savings. I note that the Chancellor is proposing a cash floor to avoid real-terms cuts to the royal grant in future, which is a significant commitment in the context of wider Government spending cuts, but we should, however, also consider whether there is a potential need for a cap on the amount raised. We should consider the proposed mechanism for uprating the royal grant each year, too.
As has been said, profits from the Crown Estate could rise significantly, particularly because of its links with wind farm developments, which could bring in substantial revenues. The rise is described as exponential in the short term and significant in the longer term, so we need to consider whether a cap might be appropriate.
Parliament must also be certain that any new arrangement will be stable and work in the long term. If the royal grant or reserves fluctuate significantly, that could, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) said, lead us into the unwelcome situation of an almost annual review of the finances. We will need to strike a balance when building flexibility into the formula, and some might say that seven years is too long a gap to leave between reviews, but we will need such flexibility if Crown Estate revenues rise significantly.
One fact that has come to light, as Members have already said, is that the Crown Estate owns 55% of the foreshore around the United Kingdom and all the seabed up to 12 nautical miles from the coast. Although I do not think that the House will go down the hon. Gentleman’s suggested path and transfer ownership of the foreshore to coastal communities, despite some in the south-west facing high water bills because of the extra costs associated with being on the coast, I think that we need to look at the issue in the context of the UK being the world’s leader in offshore wind power.
Opposition Members and Members in general very much support further investment in renewables, but is it appropriate that increased Government investment in such technologies should directly support the royal household? Indeed, that goes for private and public investment. The Government have made available some £200 million of public funding for investment in renewables, a proportion of which could end up accruing to the royal household via the sovereign grant, so what flexibility can be built into the new grant to deal with such situations?
There is a need to ensure the appropriate parliamentary oversight of the sovereign grant and of royal household expenditure, and we heard from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), as the former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), as the current Chair. She described the measures as a sensible act of modernisation, and both Members said that they look forward to getting their teeth into scrutinising the process and making it more transparent.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we must start by looking at everything, the total expenditure, including not only, as I said, support from the military, but, for example, the cost of the lord lieutenancy service? If we do not do so, we will not be informed or really understand what the monarchy costs.
As I have already said, security is a big element of spending on the royal family, but other elements need to put into the mix, and the Chancellor’s announcement of the merger of the three separate funding pots will help with transparency and with looking at everything in the round.
We very much welcome the agreement that the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will audit royal household funding, but as the Bill goes through the House, we will seek clarity on when and how often those audits will be carried out, clarity on what disclosure there will be of the information and evidence used in the process and, indeed, clarity on the Committee’s remit to look at issues such as those that my hon. Friend has just raised.
In conclusion, we support the Chancellor’s initiative, but we will seek clarity on the level at which the new grant is set, on the arrangements for uprating it each year and on whether there will be flexibility on that and on the level of parliamentary oversight. We hope that by the time the Bill reaches its final stages there will be cross-party consensus on the new arrangements.
The last time that the House substantively debated this issue was during proceedings on what became the Civil List Act 1972, and, as the system that the Act implemented comes up for renewal, it is only right that we debate its merits and potential for reform.
I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for, in particular, a lively and informative debate about reforming the sovereign grant. As we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), the royal family contributes a tremendous amount to our country, and they paid fitting tributes to its work on behalf of the nation. We also heard from other Members their thoughts about the royal family and how they should be funded in future.
Of course, the last time we had such a debate was back in 1972. I have not yet had time to read that debate; I am not sure whether it would have been as entertaining as the one we have had today. We heard suggestions about whether we should have a biking monarchy. I am sure that Members will be interested to know that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were given a tandem Boris bike by the Mayor of London; I am sure that they will use it frequently.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, we believe that the system is in need of change. I greatly appreciate the support of the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) for the measures that we are bringing forward. We want to reform the system so that we can put the grant funding on a sustainable, long-term footing and, as we have said, open it up to full parliamentary scrutiny. I think the colleagues I mentioned appreciate the objectives that we have in mind. In addition, we want to take the opportunity to modernise and simplify some peripheral elements of the current legislation.
As the Chancellor set out, we have been guided by three principles: first, ensuring that we have sustainable, long-term financing for the royal household, free from annual political interference; secondly, ensuring that it has some flexibility so that the royal household can manage its finances efficiently; and thirdly, ensuring accountability by establishing proper checks and balances to prevent sums from becoming excessive. Following those principles, we have arrived at the proposals that we are debating—initially, although we will have a Second Reading debate shortly—for a new sovereign grant.
These are genuinely significant reforms that are designed to last. Linking the sovereign grant to Crown Estate profits means that arrangements will be durable where the old system was not. As we have heard, 15% of Crown Estate profits is the starting point for deriving the grant amount. It will be based on 15% of profit in the year two years prior—so, for example, the grant for 2013-14 will be 15% of the profit for 2011-12. That will provide an amount that should keep royal spending broadly in line with spending in recent years in real terms. The percentage will be reviewed every seven years. In the unlikely event that an increase is proposed, it will require affirmative resolution in Parliament; and, of course, there are powerful control mechanisms that ensure that the grant never becomes unmanageable.
Furthermore, the Bill brings accountability arrangements for the royal household into line with those for other Government Departments. We think it is important that Parliament should have the ability to scrutinise the expenditure when it sees a need to do so—
There will be a cap at 15% of the spend by the royal household in the previous year. If the hon. Gentleman waits for a few more minutes, when I will have a chance to present the Bill to the House, he will have even more information at his disposal to understand exactly how that cap will work, how the review will take place, and who will perform it.
The Bill brings accountability arrangements for the royal household into line with those for other Government Departments. Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise that expenditure when it—
The hon. Lady keeps saying that the royal household will be brought into line with other Government Departments. Does not that imply that there will be a Government Minister who is accountable to the Commons for what the royal household is spending and will, from time to time, answer questions on it?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue. Of course, the Treasury will be accountable for the sovereign grant.
As for accountability to Parliament, sovereign grant expenditure will be audited annually by the Comptroller and Auditor General and those reports will be laid before Parliament. Should it wish to do so, the Committee of Public Accounts will also be able to scrutinise grant expenditure and will be able to invite the royal household to give evidence. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Barking, her Committee is already looking at how it may wish to fulfil its role in the accountability of the sovereign grant. In fact, that was one of the main things that Parliament argued for before the Civil List Act 1972. It was not implemented at that time, but it is right to do so now.
I very much welcome the valuable contributions of Members on both sides of the House—those of the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), the hon. Members for North Durham (Mr Jones) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn), and my hon. Friends the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). They set the context for the debate that we will have on Second Reading of the Bill, which I will shortly present. Once that Bill is before the House, Members on both sides of the House will have a better chance of understanding the proposals and how they will impact on the sovereign grant.
As I have said, this is only the first debate. There will be an opportunity to debate the matter in more detail on Second Reading and in Committee, which will be a Committee of the whole House. I am pleased that we have had a good discussion this afternoon, and that there is agreement on a number of fundamental issues.
Her Majesty the Queen has given exemplary service to the country throughout her 60-year reign. She, and other members of the royal family who support her in her official capacity, will continue to play a vital role in representing and promoting the UK and the Commonwealth. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) would agree wholeheartedly that it is right to provide the royal household with stable and sufficient support in those duties.
As I have pointed out, the royal household has significantly reduced its expenditure. As the Chancellor said, total spending by the royal household has reduced by almost £10 million over the past two decades. That is a real-terms cut of more than 50% in 20 years, which no other Department can claim to have achieved. It is also right that we ensure that that provision is transparent and accountable. In fact, on current assumptions, we expect the sovereign grant to be between £34 million and £36 million for 2013-14 and 2014-15. Such a level of support is lower than it would have been under the old system. As we have heard, in cash terms, that is broadly in line with the current level of spending, but in real terms, there is a cut of 9% over the course of this Parliament. As I said, that is lower in real terms than royal household expenditure in any of the past 20 years. The cost amounts to 51p per person per year in the UK. That is a remarkably low price to pay for the royal family’s profound contribution to public life.
The sovereign grant Bill will put that funding on an efficient, sustainable footing, and provide for it to be fully accountable to Parliament and the public. These are necessary reforms and I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
(1) new provision be made for, or in connection with, the financial support of the Sovereign and of the heir to the throne;
(2) any sums payable in respect of provision so made should be payable out of money provided by Parliament;
(3) provision be made enabling the continuation, in the reigns of Her Majesty’s successors, of the payment of the hereditary revenues of the Crown as directed under section 1 of the Civil List Act 1952;
(4) provision be made about allowances and pensions under the Civil List Acts of 1837 and 1952;
(5) any sums payable in respect of such allowances and pensions by virtue of any provision so made should be charged on the Consolidated Fund;
(6) it is expedient to amend the law relating to the financial support of members of the Royal Household.
Ordered, That a Bill be brought in upon the foregoing Resolution;
That the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Secretary Clarke, Mr Secretary Hammond, Mr Secretary Hunt, Danny Alexander, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke and Justine Greening bring in the Bill.
The Prince of Wales, having been informed of the subject matter of the Bill so far as it relates to the Duchy of Cornwall, recommends it to the consideration of the House.
Sovereign Grant Bill
Presentation and First Reading
Justine Greening accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the honour and dignity of the Crown and the Royal Family; make provision about allowances and pensions under the Civil List Acts of 1837 and 1952; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 213).