HC Deb 22 June 1992 vol 210 cc14-5
31. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the effect of intestacy on Duchy properties.

33. Mr. Foulkes

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will consider introducing legislation to alter the intestacy provisions in the Duchy.

Mr. Waldegrave

The laws on intestacy are no different in the county palatine from those in England and Wales.

Mr. Cohen

Is not the Duchy of Lancaster running a feudal fiefdom, robbing relatives of their inheritance? Why does not the normal law apply, whereby if someone dies without having made a will, his next of kin, rather than the Queen personally, has a claim to his property? For the sake of natural justice, should not repossessions by ancient statute be stopped immediately—or are we to assume that the Duchy is using its policy to satisfy the monarch's private greed?

Madam Speaker

Order. The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question was perfectly acceptable and in order, but I must tell him that no personal criticism can be made of and individual except by way of a substantive motion. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw the second part of his question?

Mr. Cohen

My criticism was of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's question was perfectly in order, but factually—you, Madam Speaker, are not responsible for that aspect—it was completely haywire. Opposition Members who take their briefing from the Daily Mirror always come a cropper; I have dealt with one or two in the past. The truth is that the law of intestacy is exactly the same in the Duchy of Lancaster as it is everywhere else: there is no difference in the rights of next of kin. The only difference lies in the fact that, instead of all the money going to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it goes to a charitable fund to benefit the people of Lancashire. Some hon. Members may well support that.

Mr. Foulkes

Does the Chancellor of the Duchy accept that many of us have no wish to join the republican rat pack led by Rupert Murdoch and Andrew Neil, who unfortunately, is a Scotsman? There is growing and genuine concern that although the civil list provides a very generous income and although the monarch is exempt from tax, the estate goes to the Queen personally when people die intestate in the Duchy of Lancaster and have no heirs, and not to the Crown, as represented by the Government. Many people believe that that anomaly ought to be dealt with. Will the Chancellor consider introducing legislation to change that procedure, because otherwise it will continue to reflect adversely on the monarch?

Mr. Waldegrave

I thought at first that the hon. Gentleman, whose question is more accurate, was referring to his hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who got it all back to front. At least the hon. Gentleman more or less knows the facts. In the following respect, though, he is wrong. Instead of the money going into the Consolidated Fund for general use by the Government, it goes into a benevolent fund which benefits a range of charities—above all, for example, Salford and Lancaster universities, Blackburn cathedral and Broughton Hall disabled ex-service men's home. There are also very small grants, including that to pay for driving lessons for an 18-year-old suffering from spina bifida and a contribution towards a powered wheelchair for a sufferer from muscular dystrophy in Lancashire. Many of us think that the Duchy, through its benevolent fund, does very good work and that it should receive support in the House.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I thank my right hon. Friend for confirming that not one penny of this money is kept by the Duchy and that it all goes to charitable uses within the Duchy, a fact that all properly informed Lancashire Members have always been well aware of.

Mr. Waldegrave

I did think that it was somewhat rash of these foreigners to interfere in my hon. Friend's area. I thought that she would dispose of them—as she has done. I would correct her, however, on one small point. Part of the money is spent on the administration of the magistracy. If, however, it were not spent in that way, money would have to come out of the self-same public funds into which the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) wants all the funds to go, so that it is an entirely circular argument.

Mr. Sumberg

Is it not ironic that, whenever we have Scottish questions, Scottish Members such as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) complain about English Members interfering, but now that we are considering Lancashire affairs, the hon. Gentleman is poking his nose into them? Would not the best advice to people in Lancashire who are affected in this way—I speak with no special interest—be to go to see a good lawyer if they have a problem?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend's latter point is sound. Previous Scottish invasions got to Derby, but on those occasions they did not try going through Lancashire.