A republican Lord or a taxpayer sympathiser?

There was an interesting passage in Hansard I came across recently whilst researching the Crown Estate. Lord Berkeley, it seems, has taken a special interest in the funding for royal travel. Interested?

In the following passage, there are some tones of criticism not typically seen in either House. Read on:

Prince Charles is in a different situation, as he relies on income from the Duchy of Cornwall to maintain his household and activities, which goes back to the time of the Black Prince and was seen by successive sovereigns as providing a separate income for the monarch’s eldest son. Last year, the Duchy provided £17 million for Prince Charles. Sadly, I have not been able to see any evidence that he has followed his mother’s lead in trying to reduce costs.

Looking at the travel of the Royal Family, in which I have taken interest for some time, in addition to the three members of the Royal Family whom I have mentioned, there are nine others who do not get paid a salary by the state but who receive royal travel finance, details of which are published every year in the royal travel reports. This may all sound fine and equitable, so why is there a problem?

Out of the £7 million for royal travel, when one looks at examples, there are some concerns. For example, the Duke of York took a £6,000 helicopter trip from his home in London to open a bridge in Sussex. That was last year. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall flew to Kirkwall and Edinburgh at a cost of £15,000 on a charter flight to visit some lifeboats and a marine centre. That is all very good. Also, the Duke of York spent £14,000 of our money visiting lifeboat stations. I am not saying that they should not do it, but there is a question whether they really ought to have charter flights and spend quite so much money on them. Perhaps it would be better if they went a bit slower.

Unfortunately, transparency has got more difficult since it was agreed between the Treasury and the Royal Family that only journeys over £10,000 are recorded separately. A couple of years ago, Princess Anne took a £5,000 helicopter trip from London to visit a pony club rally in the Midlands, and Charles took a helicopter from his Gloucester home to Gloucester. I have to ask: what is wrong with using cars or scheduled trains?

There are several issues here. Is it necessary for the state to fund the travel of 12 members of the Royal Family? Do they need to go so fast, so frequently and with so much so-called security that helicopters have to be used? For the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles, that is probably reasonable, but what about some of the others? What was the value to the UK of a state visit to South America, including the Galapagos Islands, which cost more than £600,000 in 2009? It is a nice way of seeing the islands, but at taxpayers’ expense? There are some serious questions that need to be answered about whether the state should be funding all 12 of those people travelling for royal duties. Some people might suggest that they get jobs and pay for their own travel.

There is also another problem, exacerbated by the lack of transparency, about which activities are state functions and which are private. The activities of the Duchy of Cornwall are a good example. It is a business; it pays some tax; but it is also a way of providing the heir to the throne with some income to undertake his official duties. He has 124 staff to do that, who, I am told, write regular letters to Ministers-some of my colleagues who are former Ministers said that that caused quite a lot of trouble-lobbying for pet architects, commissions or whatever. Last year, I saw evidence in Cornwall of the Duchy encouraging one of its tenants to flout the planning and environmental laws to build an oyster farm on the Halford River. They put this metal cage down in an SSSI without bothering to get planning permission or to do an environmental study. That is wrong. It is throwing weight around with people who do not feel that they can respond. It is also meddling in government, with the taxpayer funding the meddling. I believe that he should be above politics, and certainly not paid by taxpayers to lobby.

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