HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc729-35

7.15 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (2).

The House will recall that on Second Reading of the Bill last week the Prime Minister, referring to the Civil List Act 1972 which made provision for reports from the Royal Trustees, said: The Civil List Act 1972 was not, however, intended to create a system of annual reviews of the Civil List payments, nor is the procedure that it created—the formal reports by Royal Trustees—suitable for the purpose. That is the basic reason for the legislation which is now before the House. The Prime Minister went on to say, referring to his statement on 12th February, that the Government had decided to recommend the House to agree to legislation, provided that any further increases in provision for the Civil List should be subject to normal House of Commons Supply procedure, and he explained specifically the reasons for repealing the section of the 1972 Act which required the Royal Trustees to present an annual report. He said: that the Royal Trustees should report if at any time they think that the Civil List expenditure for the next year will exceed the sums available for meeting that expenditure. This provision, which, as I have said, was intended to be an exceptional provision, would, at a time of inflation, certainly become an annual requirement should the terms of the Act remain unchanged. The Prime Minister went on to say: I hope the House will agree that it is undesirable that the Royal Trustees should be required to report annually.—[Official Report, 4th December 1975; Vol. 901, c. 1980–83.] That is the provision that I seek to reinstate. I seek to go back to the 1972 Act. The Royal Trustees should report annually, and I shall try to explain why.

The Glasgow Herald, which is not normally a Labour paper, made its own assessment of the reasons for this Bill on 26th November when it said on the front page: Queen's pay to be buried'. The article said: The Government acted yesterday in an attempt to remove the money the State pays the Queen out of the sphere of political controversy. The Civil List Bill, published yesterday, removes the need for the Royal Trustees to approach Parliament for additions to the Civil List, the money voted to meet the Queen's expenses.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

On a point of order, Mr. Thomas. Is it not the custom or tradition of this House that a Member declares his interest at the beginning of his speech'? In view of the fact that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has an interest in the Queen, and has made considerable sums of money which he has not devoted to a good cause, should he not declare his interest?

The Chairman

We all have an interest in the Queen. Every hon. Member decides for himself whether he has an interest to declare to the House.

Mr. Hamilton

I am not very interested in what the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) says, but I am glad she is here. She is paid very large sums of money for attending the European Parliament when she should be accountable here. But she was not here last week when we had the Second Reading of the Bill.

Mrs. Ewing

Will the hon. Member come to the point?

Mr. Hamilton

I shall. The hon. Lady has found a good excuse for letting her constituents know that she is here at all.

Mrs. Ewing

Come to the point.

Mr. Hamilton

I shall deal with the point in my own good way. I suggest that the hon. Lady gets her facts right and makes them outside this Chamber.

Mrs. Ewing

Unlike the hon. Member, I do make them outside.

The Chairman

Order. I must ask the House to cool down, or at least the two hon. Members concerned, and let us proceed with the amendment.

Mr. Hamilton

I was quoting from the Glasgow Herald, which went on to say Instead it is intended that payment will be made from the Consolidated Fund on an annual basis. The Prime Minister added on 4th December: Estimates for increases in 1976 will, when this legislation is enacted, be presented in the usual way and the House will have the same opportunity to discuss and decide those Increases as it has to discuss any other voted money. No further assurances were given on that.

In my speech on that occasion, I asked whether this meant that there would be occasions for debate, as with various Departments, with a Minister present to answer specific questions on payments made to members of the Royal Household, whether individuals of the Family or the Household in general. I got no replies at all but only a general brush-off by the Prime Minister when he replied to the debate. I shall come specifically to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn.

The Prime Minister's last remarks were along the lines of what the hon. Lady has just said. He said: In view of the kind remarks my hon. Friend"— he was referring to me— made about me, as he always does in these matters, I shall make one further reference to him. He referred to 'hangers on' of the Royal Family I did not refer to them at all, but that is by the way. I doubt whether there is anyone better rewarded or who is a greater beneficiary from the existence of the monarchy—I would not wish to be so offensive as to refer to a 'hanger on'—through his writings than my hon. Friend."—[Official Report, 4th December 1975; Vol. 901, cc. 1983, 2016.] Those remarks, delivered in that manner, reveal more about the Prime Minister than they do about me. At least I had the honesty to put in my declaration of Member's interests the fact that I was getting royalties from the only book I have ever written. I tell the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn that she had better find out what is happening to that money.

Mrs. Ewing

I have asked.

Mr. Hamilton

If she makes that statement outside the House, I shall take action against her.

Mrs. Ewing

Answer the question.

Mr. Hamilton

I hope that I am answering. I hope that I am answering the Prime Minister too. His attack on me came at a stage in his speech when it could not be answered, which was unbecoming of a Prime Minister or any other Minister speaking of one of his own supporters. However, I want to put the question again.

As I understand it, there is to be no statutory requirement on the Royal Trustees to present an annual report. I do not know why that is, unless it is to conceal something. As I have said, the Prime Minister told the House that any further increases in provision should be subject to normal House of Commons Supply procedure. Does that cover annuitants? As I understood it, later in his speech the Prime Minister said that the Queen herself would provide £150,000 a year out of her own income towards the expenses of the Civil List for 1975, and I think that the figure is currently estimated to be £120,000.

The implication is that this House will not be informed whether any increase has been given to the annuitants who are now covered by the Civil List Acts. Does that mean that we shall not be able to ascertain what the annuitants will be getting?

The hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) claimed in that debate that the Bill was bringing the matter into the public arena. Far from doing that, however, it will make it more and more secretive. In the early stages of the Civil List, virtually no evidence was taken by Select Committees. Hardly any information was made public. This House was scarcely aware of the reasons for increases in Civil List expenditure. It was only in 1971–72 that a Select Committee decided to take evidence, publish it and present it to the House. That Committee also decided, however, against my vote, that there would never be another such Select Committee but that instead we would have these reports by the Royal Trustees annually and that an Order would be laid by the Government and could be debated. Now we are to be deprived of those annual reports and we are, therefore, receding into secrecy.

I do not believe that any institution of this country ought to be shrouded in mystery. Public money is involved, and we should be able to ask questions and to scrutinise every penny of public expenditure. Clause 1 is a move in the opposite direction. That is why I seek to delete it and to reinsert the provisions of the 1972 Act.

The Minister of State, Treasury (Mr. Denzil Davies)

The amendment seeks to retain the requirement that the Royal Trustees shall report more frequently than once in every 10 years. It would have this effect despite the provision in Clause 1(1) allowing additional payments to be made from Votes, because the Consolidated Fund provision of the 1972 Act would be insufficient, of itself, to meet Civil List expenditure in any year.

Traditionally, provision for the Civil List has been made at the beginning of a reign and has continued for the duration of that reign. The provision in 1952. for instance, lasted for 17 years. It was the Select Committee's intention that the revised arrangements made in 1972 should last for between five and 10 years. As amended, the 1972 Act will therefore require the Royal Trustees to report at least once in every 10 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) takes exception to that period, but I think that most hon. Members would agree with the Government that it is reasonable.

I want to set my hon. Friend's mind at rest. This procedure does not mean that there will be no opportunity to debate these matters at more frequent intervals. It will be possible for every hon. Member to pursue any particular point under the normal Supply procedure. This is because the payments to be made to the Royal Trustees under Clause 1(1) will be subject to the normal Supply procedure in the House, in the same way as any other expenditure.

In addition, payments by the Royal Trustees will be audited by the Auditor of the Civil List—I hope that this meets my hon. Friend's point—and a statement of these payments will be appended to the Appropriation Account at the end of the year. Full information, therefore, regarding supplementary payments will be available at annual intervals. Actual expenditure will be detailed in the Appropriation Account after it has been incurred, so that hon. Members will be able to see who spent the money and where it went, and will be able t to assure themselves that it was not used for private purposes.

We have, therefore, three ways in which these matters can be discussed. We have the normal Supply procedure in relation to extra payments every year, the Appropriation Account and the opportunity to debate the report and, every 10 years, the report of the Royal Trustees. I hope that my hon. Friend does not feel that this is sweeping the matter under the carpet. Knowing his ingenuity and knowledge of our procedure, I am sure that he will fully avail himself of the opportunities. In the circumstances, I feel that we have gone a long way to meet the points that he has made in the past, and with that assurance I hope that he will not press the amendment.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)

The Minister of State has summed up the matter very well. The whole object of the exercise originally was that the Civil List should last for a reign, but circumstances have changed so much and inflation has raged so high that we have been compelled to find some other method, and this is the method that has been chosen. The period of from five to 10 years is not unreasonable.

The points raised by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) are well covered, because originally this matter was debatable only at times when the Crown had to ask Parliament for more money. Now, because it is paid for out of public moneys, we can debate it every year. I cannot see why the hon. Member for Fife, Central is objecting. If anything, this makes the matter more liable to scrutiny than ever before. Continual arguments over these matters should be avoided. Let us recognise that the Crown does an extremely good job, and so do all the members of the Royal Family. They are entitled to be remunerated, and I hope the House will not continue to debate these subjects in this way.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton

At the moment the House and country know what sums are paid to individual members of the Royal Family. Can the Minister give me an assurance that, in the Appropriation Account or in another way, we shall be able to follow the trends of the annuities each year? If there is an increase in any annuity, shall we be able to see it?

Mr. Denzil Davies

I can only repeat what I have already told my hon. Friend. Actual expenditure will be detailed in the Appropriation Account and hon. Members will be able to see who was spending the money and where it went, and will be able to assure themselves that it has not been used for private purposes.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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