For the first time I had a call today from an employee of Prince Charles. He politely and fairly pointed out that the figures I quoted this afternoon were accurate but misleading.
Yes the Prince had increased his taxpayer funded spending by 18% 'but it was the Government's fault.' They had sent Charles on a mission to Canada. The 50% increase was contributions to charities. I suggested that this could be judged to be self promotion or an investment in shoring up the monarchy. Still I'm happy to correct any misleading impression I may have given.
The announcement of the new deal came unannounced today and without supporting details. MPs were falling over themselves in accepting a deal that none of us understood. The emetic sycophancy was as revolting as ever. The praise for the woman in green in Ireland was sincere. I have previously blogged on this after my recent visit to Cork. It was good to get a brief word in on behalf of the quarter of the population who are republicans.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The sight of the British Head of State bowing her head in respect at Croke park to those who had been murdered by the British Army was a symbol of profound potency. She also paid her respects to the many thousands of soldiers from the Republic who died in the first world war. She visited the English market in Cork, which a number of us have visited recently, and that has had a practical benefit for the area. I believe that that visit will help to heal the deep wounds between the Republic and ourselves. The Queen has a splendid and unblemished record of service as the Head of State, and I do not want to stray into saying that she does not. She has rightly earned the respect of us all. However, some of the hyperbole this afternoon, which we always have on these occasions, goes a little too far.
Last year, Prince Charles increased the amount of taxpayers’ money he spent by 18% and his personal spending went up by 50%. That was at a time when his 159 staff had their wages frozen. We must look carefully at the royal finances. I found it an Alice-in-Wonderland concept for the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) to say that one of the great achievements of the Public Accounts Committee was to save a bit of money on transport that he described as 'fantastically wasteful'. I think that we must apply the same financial discipline to the royal family that we apply to the poorest in society.
There should be a distinction, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), between the way we treat the monarch, because of her role, and other members of the royal family. Perhaps we could be a bit more critical in the way in which we work out the benefit of visits from minor members of the royal family to charities and set that alongside the security and military costs that are incurred. That does not happen now.
It is not true to say that support for the monarchy as an institution is universal in this country. I come from a constituency where the last insurrection that tried to set up a republic took place in 1839. The 20 people who died in that insurrection are honoured every year. There are people in this country who are happy to describe themselves as republicans, although the figure varies. It was about 45% at the time of the death of Princess Diana and it goes down to about 25%. Those people have a credible view that should be heard.
We had little prior knowledge of this debate. I had no idea that it was happening today. There seems to be an acceptance of this matter without a knowledge of the fine details. I urge that we find a simpler solution, because the one we have seems to be very complex. There is income from various sources, some of which are controlled and some not. Perhaps we could apply a system similar to the one that I urged hon. Members to use for ourselves some years ago in supporting a motion tabled by Chris Mullin, which was that the salaries of hon. Members should be linked to changes in the basic state pension, so that if there was an increase in the basic state pension, our salaries would increase, and if it was frozen, our salaries would be frozen. I believe that a simple mechanism of that type would be acceptable to the country as a whole, and it would be beneficial to the House because it would give us a greater interest in the level of the basic state pension. It would be interesting to put a cap on future payments for the civil list, and if it was linked to a mechanism like that, whether based on the retail prices index or the consumer prices index, it would be possible to understand it. It is essential that the royal family should face the same financial discipline as every other family in the land.
Of course the royal family have done many beneficial things recently, particularly raising money from the royal palaces. However, it is worth remembering that the most profitable royal palace in Europe is Versailles, and they have had rather a different attitude to royalty in France from the one that we have had here. However, that is not essential.
The royal family are in the position that we cannot attack them or say anything critical. That is the rule in the House, which we accepted some seven centuries ago. We know the recent history, with the behaviour of certain members of the royal family having been widely criticised in the press, but it is impossible for us to make any derogatory remarks about them here. I believe that we should remove that gag, not because we wish to criticise the Head of State but so that when minor members of the royal family are extravagant or outrage the public by their standards of behaviour, we in the House have the freedom to be critical of them.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): May we have a debate on the way in which we pay our respects to the fallen, particularly in Afghanistan? The practice of Back Benchers reading out the names of the fallen in the House is now forbidden, and on two occasions the announcement by the Prime Minister of their names has been moved, to a Monday and a Tuesday.
There is now great concern that the moving tributes paid by the people of Wootton Bassett cannot be paid under the new arrangements at Brize Norton, because the hearses are taken on a route that does not allow the public to line up and pay their tributes in order that we as a Parliament can be reminded of the consequences of our decisions and the country can be reminded of the true cost of war.
Sir George Young: It is important that this House has an opportunity to pay the sort of tributes that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, although some of the issues that he raised at the beginning of his question fall more appropriately to you, Mr Speaker. I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has a constituency interest, and see whether there is any way that what used to happen in Wootton Bassett can take place under the new arrangements for repatriating those who have fallen.