HL Deb 18 December 1975 vol 366 cc1574-9

11.26 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. The Civil List Act of 1972 provided for the payment of £980,000 a year from the Consolidated Fund for the Queen's Civil List. That sum exceeded the annual expenditure at that time. The Act provided for any surpluses to be accumulated by the Royal Trustees and those surpluses were to be applied to meet deficits of subsequent years. At the time when Parliament was considering the 1972 arrangement it was expected that the provisions in the Act would suffice to cover expenditure for a period of at least five years.

My Lords, the provisions in the 1972 Act were designed at a time when experience of and expectations of inflation were much less than they have become in the intervening three years. Among those provisions was a statutory requirement on the Royal Trustees to report to the Parliament, and for any necessary action then to be taken, when it appeared that the Civil List expenditure for the next calendar year would exceed the sums available under the Act to meet that expenditure. The Civil List Act 1972 was not, however, intended to create a system of annual reviews of the Civil List payments. Indeed, the procedure that it created—the formal reports by the Royal Trustees—is in no way suitable for such a purpose, and that is the basic reason for the legislation which is now before Your Lordships.

About three-quarters of the expenditure covered by the Civil List is on wages and salaries, mainly on staff engaged in manual and clerical work. Increases which are granted to these staff reflect increases in comparable Civil Service rates negotiated with the relevant unions. Such increases are, of course, in this current period entirely in line with the Government's own counter-inflation policy. There has been no question of any breach of that policy having been made in respect of anyone whose pay depends upon the Civil List, and I can assure Your Lordships that this will continue to be the case.

My Lords, the Government are determined to deal with inflation and place the highest priority on succeeding in doing so. But it would be grossly irresponsible to expect, in considering the arrangements for the Civil List in the foreseeable future, that it will be possible to revert to a system which was based on fixing a basic sum with the expectation that it would not have to be changed for a number of years. It is therefore desirable to establish a new system as set out in the Bill now before Your Lordships.

It has always been recognised that Civil List payments were made by Parliament on behalf of the nation to the Queen and the Royal Household in order to enable the Queen and the Household, and other members of the Royal Family, to carry-out their very wide range of official duties which the nation has come to expect of them. That is why, taken together with the degree of inflation recently experienced, the Government propose that additional Civil List payments should be made in a way which is similar to that in which other monies for other official purposes are provided.

It is noteworthy that although the Queen has widened the scope of her activities far beyond those of any previous Sovereign, the number of people employed in her Household has been reduced by 44, or some 8 to 9 per cent., during her reign. This is the more remarkable since the Queen is Sovereign of 12 countries and travels regularly throughout the world in addition to carrying out extensive and exacting programmes in this country.

The Bill now before your Lordships, therefore, provides that the Treasury may make payments out of Votes for the purpose of supplementing all or any of the sums to which Section 6(1) of the Civil List Act 1972 applies. These sums, which are payable out of the Consolidated Fund, are for the Queen's Civil List, for annuities to certain members of the Royal Family, for contributions to the official expenses of certain other members of the Royal Family, and for Civil List pensions. The payments to be made to the Royal Trustees under Clause 1(1) of the present Bill will be subject to the normal supply procedure in the same way as other expenditure. Payments by the Royal Trustees will be audited by the Auditor of the Civil List, who is the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, and a statement of those payments will be appended to the Appropriation Account at the end of the year.

The second and only other major pro vision of the Bill repeals the subsection of the 1972 Act which requires the Royal Trustees to 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 was intended to be an exceptional provision, would, at a time of inflation, certainly become an annual requirement should the terms of the 1972 Act remain unchanged. This was not the intention of Parliament when the 1972 Act was passed. Inflation intervened and had this effect. I hope your Lordships will agree that it is undesirable that the Royal Trustees should be required to report annually. Equally, it is clearly right that they should be required to report, but at somewhat longer intervals, in order to review the working of the system generally; this was, after all, the purpose behind the 1972 Act. This Bill does not, therefore, remove the duty on the Royal Trustees to report; it says they must report at least every ten years, and they could report more often.

Your Lordships will realise that this legislation is concerned only with the machinery for providing inevitable increases in Civil List payments. It does not raise the question of the amounts which should be provided by using that machinery.

The House may recall that Her Majesty offered to contribute £150,000 towards the expenses of the Civil List for 1975. That contribution, which was warmly accepted by the Government, was in support of the Civil List for one year only, and carried with it no obligation or understanding that the Queen would continue to contribute to expenses for which Parliament provides and has traditionally provided. Her Majesty has nevertheless indicated that she now wishes to offer a regular annual contribution towards the expenses of the Civil List.

As the Prime Minister announced on 4th December 1975 in another place, Her Majesty has offered to pay to the Consolidated Fund as from next year a sum which is equivalent to the provision made, under present arrangements, under Section 3 of the Civil List Act 1972, under which payments are at present made to certain individual members of the Royal Family. Provision for these payments is now £85,000. The value of the Queen's contributions will inevitably rise year by year with the cost of living, so it is not possible to put a firm figure on it. The sum which the Queen will pay in 1976 will, of course, depend on the level of the official expenses incurred, because each of these members of the Royal Family has expenses, and the increase in the payments to be made under Section 3 of the 1972 Act. The figure currently estimated is of the order of £120,000. The first contribution was for £150,000 for that one year, 1975. We face a continuing contribution by Her Majesty of, I would say, at least£120,000, and probably considerably higher than that, for quite a few years which we can foresee. The Civil List will, on this basis, now be providing only for the Sovereign, the Consort of a Sovereign and for the children of a Sovereign and the widows of those children. I am sure that your Lordships will warmly welcome Her Majesty's offer to make this continuing contribution, which is being accepted with gratitude and appreciation by the Government.

I strongly commend this Bill to the House. It introduces no major innovations into the general arrangements by which the nation provides the financial support necessary for the Queen and the Royal Household to fulfil their official functions. Nor in itself does the Bill affect the extent of that support:no changes or additions to public expenditure arise from the Bill itself nor any changes or additions to public sector manpower. It provides for a very useful amendment to the means of providing for inevitable increases in expenditure when these increases arise in the light of changed circumstances since the original main legislation was enacted. Her Majesty's very generous offer will, I am sure, be deeply appreciated by your Lordships. But the legislation which is now before you stands and is fully justified independently of Her Majesty's willingness to make a continuing contribution towards the expenses of the Civil List. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)

11.39 a.m.


My Lords, I do not think this is an occasion for much Parliamentary oratory. I am grateful, and I am sure the House will be grateful, to the noble Lord for his painstaking explanation of the purposes and effect of this Bill. I note from the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum that: No change in public expenditure is expected to result from the Bill since its effect is only to transfer to Votes expenditure that would otherwise have had to be met from the Consolidated Fund by virtue of further orders under section 6 of the Act of 1972. Further, The Bill does not involve any increase in public service manpower. In those circumstances, it is clear that such a measure ought to have an easy passage in your Lordships' House.

I would add only two things which are perhaps worth saying, but not at any length. The first is that it goes almost without saying, but I should like to say simply in these words, that this side of the House, and I think all quarters of the House, will echo what the noble Lord has said about our gratitude for Her Majesty's generosity in this matter. It would be churlish not to say this explicitly, and I think foolish to say it too often. The other thing I wanted to say—and I do not want to initiate a debate on the subject—is that I think we require from time to time to reflect upon the great advantages of our own constitutional arrangements. Our Head of State is not a Party politician. In many countries where they adopt the so-called presidental system of government the Head of State is by nature a Party politician, and that means that the Head of State can never be, however much their portraits may be displayed and flaunted over the public media, quite the symbol of national unity and national continuity that a non-Party political Head of State can be.

Moreover, our Head of State is not a retired politician. Our system ensures that he, or she, as the case may be, can be somebody in the prime of life, and this means that he, or she, is able to undertake obligations and commitments of a very wide kind which other countries which adopt different systems cannot expect of the rather elderly figures, and universally respected figures, whom they select. Furthermore, our own arrangement provides a large number, or at any rate a modest number, under the Queen of other members of the family who can undertake royal functions in different parts of the country and in different parts of the Commonwealth and world.

I was glad that the noble Lord reminded us of the fact that it is not only of the United Kingdom that Her Majesty has a position as sovereign, and of course of the Commonwealth itself she has important functions as its titular head. All these things redound to the advantage and to the renown of this country at a time when this country's advantage and renown are very much to be sought. Speaking for myself. I sometimes think that in a desire not to be political about these things we all of us forget to remind ourselves from time to time of the great advantages which we derive from our present constitutional arrangements. My Lords, I support the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read 3a, and passed.