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MPs angry at royal plea for fence grant

LABOUR MPS have reacted angrily to reports that the Queen has applied for a pounds 300,000 grant to help finance a fence around a native pine forest on her Balmoral estate. If granted it could give ammunition to those who want the Royal Family to pay income tax.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman yesterday confirmed that the estate had applied for a grant under the Forestry Commission's native pinewood scheme, but did not confirm the sum applied for.

The Balmoral estate project aims to fence off the 1,000-acre Ballochuie pine forest site to keep out animals, especially deer, and allow the development and maturity of the wood.

Criticism of the plan by environmentalists centres on whether such action will create an unnatural artificial environment, presenting a danger to rare birds. An increased deer cull has been suggested as a solution rather than fencing. However, the grant application adds further fuel to the debate on whether the Queen should pay tax.

MPs are expected to raise the matter in the House of Commons. The recent disclosure that public scrutiny of the pounds 10m Civil List payments to the Royal Family has been effectively barred until 2000, could mean a concerted effort to at least win some concession on future grants.

Bob Cryer, Labour MP for Bradford South, said: 'It is an exhibition of greed for her to ask for yet more support from the public purse. At a time when the Royal Family is the subject of wide public criticism because of domestic difficulties, this does not enhance the position of royalty.'

Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, said the Royal Family had a 'cheek to ask the taxpayer to foot the bill' for the fencing at Balmoral.