Royal aides want to see abolition of Civil List

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The Independent Online

The 400-year-old system for providing financial support to individual members of the Royal Family has become a nonsense, senior Buckingham Palace insiders believe.

The 400-year-old system for providing financial support to individual members of the Royal Family has become a nonsense, senior Buckingham Palace insiders believe.

Under the terms of the present arrangement, only the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh now benefit directly from the Civil List and the additional grants paid by Parliament. All other relatives of the Queen named in the Civil List Act 1972 are, in effect, supported by the Queen's private income, which, since 1993, has been used to reimburse Parliament for these annuities or royal grants.

The death of the Queen Mother, who was the only other royal to receive her funding, £643,000, directly from Parliament, has brought into focus the absurdity of a system whereby the Government writes cheques every month to individual royals only so that the Queen can send back the money by return of post.

The Palace believes that this arrangement helps give the public the impression that the taxpayer still has to support a number of minor royals to the tune of £1.5m a year.

In the fight to win the PR battle over the way the Royal Family is perceived by the nation, the anomaly of the parliamentary annuities presents a serious problem for the Palace.

It is understood that the Queen would like to abolish this part of the system but does not want to take up parliamentary time. She might also want to avoid giving Parliament the opportunity to debate more fundamental changes to the Civil List arrangement and the grant-in-aid scheme, which pays for the maintenance of her palaces and royal travel. Given half a chance, many MPs would welcome the opportunity to cut funding for sovereign expenditure and make the Royal Family more publicly accountable for their wealth.

Under the terms of the Civil List Act 1972, MPs are barred from asking questions about royal finances outside the 10-year period. The result is that the Civil List is now one of the least scrutinised accounts in the country.

Parliament's financial watchdog, Sir John Bourn, the comptroller and auditor general, is still not allowed to audit the Civil List, the £7.9m paid directly to the Queen. Although he has recently been allowed to examine the accounts of the royal household, the Civil List remains "out of bounds".

Yet there is still legal provision for the Queen to return to Parliament to ask for a top-up if she falls on hard times.

The Palace believes it has made huge strides in recent years in making economies in the Queen's head-of-state expenditure. In the past 10 years it has cut public spending by £48m, including a reduction of bills for royal travel by £3m.

But other royal expenses have gone up. According to the most recent report of the Royal Trustees, who comprise the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Keeper of the Privy Purse, the annual cost of wines and beverages almost doubled from £37,123 to £66,749 in the past 10 years. The cost of garden parties also rose from £242,016 to £423,326 in the same period.

But two years ago the Palace announced that these cost savings and a lower than expected inflation rate had earned them a £30m surplus.

However MPs, including Labour's Alan Williams, have demanded that the Palace pay it back to Parliament. Under the Civil List Act, the Queen is not allowed to return the money. Instead, the Government has decided to cap the Civil List at £7.9m until 2011.

The tradition of direct grants to lesser royals is a relatively new one. Under Edward VII, George V and George VI, the queen was granted £40,000, while at the start of the Queen's reign the Duke of Edinburgh received a similar amount.

In 1952, the list was expanded to include allowances to Princess Margaret (£6,000 rising to £15,000 were she to marry), while minor royals who undertook official duties were granted £25,000 each.

The Civil List: How the Queen passes on the money

The Queen receives £7.9m annually on the Civil List. She reimburses the Government for the parliamentary annuities made to her children and cousins.

The Duke of York receives £249,000pa

The Earl of Wessex receives £141,000pa

The Princess Royal receives £228,000pa

Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester receives £87,000pa

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester receive £175,000pa

The Duke and Duchess of Kent receive £236,000pa

Princess Alexandra, the Hon Lady Ogilvy receives £225,000pa