MPs and Peers have briefly debated the future finances of the Monarchy. Crown and Parliament differed over money for centuries. But at the accession of George III in 1760 it was agreed that most of the income from Crown lands would go to the Treasury and the King would receive a Civil List payment for the discharge of Royal duties. With some minor tweaks on the way that arrangement has been renewed by each monarch.
Two estates remain as private income, the Duchy of Lancaster for the monarch and Duchy of Cornwall for the heir. Many head of state expenses are also met directly by various Government departments. We effectively have a salaried Royal Family who also have a substantial private income.
In the last financial year 2009/10 the Civil List amounted to £14.2million. Government expenditure on travel, security, palaces etc amounted to £23.6million. The direct salary of the Duke of Edinburgh was £359,000. The Duchy of Lancaster made a profit of £13.3million and the Duchy of Cornwall £17.2million. The revenue from the Crown Estate was £210.7million.
State expenditure on the Monarchy has actually fallen considerably over the last 20 years. But the Queen and the Treasury have decided to seek a new formula going forward. The Chancellor will be publishing a Bill for Parliament to consider this month. Instead of the Civil List and supplementary Government expenditures having to be decided each year there will be a fixed percentage of the Crown Estate income paid to the Royal Household. This will be known as the Sovereign Grant, which I guess is a more accurate description of its purpose than “Civil List”.
Discussing the Royal Family is done with great care in the House of Commons. Personally I think the conventions are now over protective, stultifying debate. Issues that are discussed up and down the land don’t get an airing in the country’s primary debating forum. It does allow for some pompous speeches from Tory MPs. But in speaking for the Liberal Democrats I kept to the rules and acknowledged the esteem and affection in which Her Majesty is held. But I think it is right that not only should we reform the income of the Head of State but the expenditure should be fully transparent, too. Parliament has discovered in a very painful way that resisting financial transparency leads to reputational damage. The National Audit Office should be able to report each year on the use of all the Crown Estate funds.
I also mentioned that the Crown should be able to raise more funds by opening up the Royal Palaces to the public more often. The White House is a working residence but is open most days of the year, not just in August. Buckingham Palace could and should be seen by many more people.