Legal bills soar as Queen protects privacy

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The Independent Online

The Queen has ordered all her staff to sign new gagging orders to stop the stream of salacious disclosures by ex-royal footmen, butlers and valets.

The introduction of the new employment contracts containing the confidentiality clause for all staff, from chambermaids to the Lord Chamberlain, contributed to a sharp rise in legal bills for the monarchy, it was revealed yesterday in the annual accounts of the royal public finances.

The Queen's legal bills, which also included the cost of fighting court battles over the revelations by courtiers, rose from £32,000 to £117,000 last year. The Queen has been beset by a series of breaches of privacy, including a book and tour by Paul Burrell, former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales; unsubstantiated allegations by George Smith, a former valet, about the Prince of Wales; and pictures from the Queen's bedchamber by Ryan Parry, an undercover reporter who worked as a footman at Buckingham Palace.

Under the new contracts, all staff have been required to sign a pledge of confidentiality to the monarchy for life, and any proceeds from a breach of the undertaking will be forfeit for charity.

The Keeper of the Privy Purse, Alan Reid, who is in charge of the royal finances, said the total cost of keeping the Queen as head of state rose by 1.7 per cent to £36.8m, partly due to the state visits by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the US President, George Bush. "The annual cost per person in the country amounts to 61p or less than the price of two pints of milk," he said.

The royal finances show that cost of travel for the Queen and the Royal Family continued to rise, from £4.2m to £4.7m last year. The Royal Train, which the Queen decided to keep after a cost-saving review, cost £48 per mile compared to £14 per mile for air travel by the Royal Family. The train, which comprises nine coaches, acts as an overnight hotel-cum-office, but is restricted to the Queen, Prince Philip and the Prince of Wales, and their staff. It was used on only 18 journeys at a total cost of £782,000.

A senior Royal Household official defended the use of the Royal Train, saying it had enabled the Queen, now 78, to carry out her duties. "We have no plans to do away with the train. It becomes more important for her as the Queen gets older," said the source.

The Royal Household has offered the train to ministers or business users, but has had no takers. The train is not ornate like the Orient Express and can only travel at night. It also cannot go through the Channel Tunnel because it is the wrong gauge and has inadequate security. The rising cost of security is not included in the accounts, which makes it difficult to identify the true cost of running the monarchy.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh did try scheduled rail services, travelling twice together at a cost of £331. Prince Philip also travelled first class from Bath Spa to Paddington with staff at a cost of £195. Butthe Palace said security had cost an extra £15,000 which was not necessary for the Royal Train.

Members of the Royal Family normally fly by small jets operated by the RAF, but during the Iraq war, the planes were required in the Middle East. The report reveals the Royal Household is reviewing the arrangements for using RAF planes with the Government, which could decide it would be more cost-effective to obtain a plane for the Prime Minister, ministers and members of the Royal Family.

The royal drinks bill fell dramatically from £27,000 to £6,000, but this was because banqueting bills for two state visits were paid for by the Foreign Office. The Queen has also waived royal immunity to allow Ken Livingstone to collect the congestion charge on royal cars.

The Civil List - the sums granted by Parliament to members of the Royal Family for official duties - was fixed for 10 years in 2000, and last year rose to £9.9m from £9.8m. Palace officials said for the past 12 years, the Queen rather than the taxpayer has paid for the official allowances for the royals, the cost of the Prince of Wales's duties, and the cost of conserving the Royal Collection. The Queen receives about £6m after tax from the Duchy of Lancaster estates.

COUNTING THE COST OF PRINCE ANDREW'S FLYING VISITS

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, flew by helicopter from Kensington Palace to Oxford for lunch at a cost of £2,939, accounts published by the royal household showed last night.

Prince Andrew was attending an official lunch hosted by the Oman British Friendship Association and palace officials said it was justified, because he needed to return for an official banquet in London for President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

He also used a five-seater twin-engined jet, part of the Queen's Flight, to attend a dinner at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, where he is the club captain. He flew from RAF Northolt, near London, to Leuchars in Scotland at a cost of £3,201. He stayed two days.

Palace sources said the Prince, who was recently criticised by veterans after missing the D-Day memorial celebrations in France to attend a golfing dinner at Gleneagles, was fulfilling duties as the new captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. He was presenting prizes at the club, which paid £1,124 towards the cost of the trip to the taxpayer.

The Prince was also involved in one of the most expensive foreign trips of the year for the Royal Family. He flew to Barbados on a scheduled flight from Heathrow and travelled around the Caribbean in a jet from the Queen's Flight in February 2003, at a cost of £107,289 for seven days. He was representing the Queen at independence ceremonies for various islands on the trip organised by the Foreign Office.

In January last year, he flew to Birmingham, Edinburgh and Florence on the Queen's Flight at a cost of £14,449 on official business for the Department of Trade and Industry. The Government paid £10,738 towards the cost, leaving the royal household to pay £3,711.