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Royal rights of residency

The Government faces a perplexing dilemma over its Asylum and Immigration Bill now going through Parliament. Where does it stand on "royalty of no fixed abode"? The expression belongs to the Labour MP Tony Banks, who muses: "Just think of all the ex-kings knocking around here - Greece, Romania, Hungary..."

Mr Banks has had to withdraw his rather neat phrase from a Commons written question about the Bill, after being told by a parliamentary clerk that "royalty" could not be used for purposes of ridicule. But despite substituting the more respectful "former heads of state", Mr Banks has been unable to discover how many crowned heads of state of foreign countries have been allowed to take up residence in Britain. The Home Office tells him it would not be appropriate to discuss the matter.

Now, having got wind of Banks's inquiries, the former King Constantine of Greece has sent the MP a message asking him not to start a vendetta. Perish the thought, says Mr Banks. "I am delighted we have so many ex- kings here. I just wonder why there is one rule for them and another rule for other asylum-seekers."

In the interests of open government and a spirit of compromise, couldn't the Government at least release approximate figures of monarchs resident on these shores, say, to the nearest half-dozen?

Bland deserts

BBC staff will find their new chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, is a man who will get his way, even if it takes him decades - as his wife, Jenny, can vouchsafe. He met her as a child on a beach in Northern Ireland and vowed he would eventually marry her. But Jenny had other plans. She married the Earl of Strafford, with whom she had four children.

Still Sir Christopher waited, and his patience was rewarded. When he was in his forties, she divorced and the duo finally tied the knot.

What's more, the BBC job has been in his sights for some time. Two years ago, when he was the outgoing chairman of London Weekend Television, a friend asked him whether he would like one day to replace Marmaduke Hussey. A glint came into Sir Christopher's eye. "That's not in my gift," he said - and then paused. "But it is the greatest job in television."

Foreign, like

It seems the Labour Party's socialist societies think the outcome of the Northern Ireland peace process is a foregone conclusion. Their "New Vision For New Labour" conference on Saturday includes a session on Northern Ireland - within a foreign policy debate - one "new vision" that won't best please the Ulster Unionists, I suspect.

A less-than-overjoyed Labour Party spokesperson says: "The conference isn't organised by us, so I can't answer any questions about it." He might like to ponder, though, that if affiliated societies such as the Labour Students, National Union of Labour Clubs and the Fabian Society all believe Northern Ireland comes under foreign policy, then the party may be in need of an internal refresher course.

Andrew's art

Donor of the week is Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who lent one of Picasso's finest blue-period works to the National Gallery for six months. But the 1903 portrait of Picasso's friend Angel Fernandez de Soto could have been lost to the nation if Sir Andrew had listened to his third and current wife, Madeleine.

David Mason, Sir Andrew's art adviser for the past five years, tells me: "I went with Andrew and Madeleine to New York to show them the blue period Picasso. Sir Andrew only saw the de Soto the day before he bought it but I told him, 'you just have to have it'. Madeleine was much more interested in the Mother and Child painting from 1922 - I think because she has two children and one on the way. But I told Andrew, 'this [the de Soto] is the one'."

Mr Mason's view prevailed, and the 1903 Picasso found its way into the Lloyd Webber collection for pounds 18m. The Mother and Child, sold by Pamela Harriman, the US ambassador in Paris, went for pounds 7m. Sir Andrew also admits that he dropped out of the bidding for Picasso's self-portrait Yo, Picasso, at around pounds 4m in 1981. It was sold eight years later for just under pounds 29m. "Of course, I'm much better advised now than I was then," he said. He was unwilling to specify whether he was referring to a change of art adviser, or wife.

PC pouffes

I am intrigued to learn that furniture is becoming politically correct. A friend went into Maples, the top London furnishers, and asked to buy a pouffe. "Please, madam," she was implored in hushed tones, "we are no longer allowed to call them that. I would be pleased to show you our range of cushioned footstools."

Eagle Eye