Insurance 'could help to prevent palace fires': If royal buildings had to be insured, MPs think more precautions might be taken. Chris Blackhurst reports

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Indy Politics
IF ROYAL palaces were insured in the same way as any other building, fires like the one that gutted part of Windsor Castle might not occur again, it was claimed yesterday, writes Chris Blackhurst.

Robert Sheldon, chairman of the cross-party Commons Public Accounts Committee, said that despite the precedent of 36 fires at historic buildings causing damage of pounds 50,000 each between 1984 and 1992, few precautions appeared to have been taken to prevent the Windsor fire, which cost pounds 40m in 1992. He could not help thinking that 'the discipline of the insurance industry should have been used'.

While items in the royal palaces are covered by insurance, the buildings themselves are not. If the palace managers had paid insurance premiums and been subjected to the requirements of the industry, he said, 'there might not have been this wretched fire'.

Mr Sheldon was speaking at the PAC examination of Hayden Phillips, permanent secretary of the Department of National Heritage and Michael Peat, director of finance and property services at the Royal Household. Mr Phillips explained it was government policy that the Government takes the risk for buildings like the occupied royal palaces that fall within its estate.

The occupied royal palaces - Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, St James's Palace, Clarence House and parts of Kensington Palace and Hampton Court - receive pounds 20m a year from the National Heritage department. Alan Williams, MP for Swansea West, said that despite that, this was the first time the committee had monitored how the money was spent. He said he could not understand why Princess Anne, who carried out 10 engagements a week lived in a private flat when 'another five members of the family occupy 80 rooms in the palaces and only carry out 12 engagements between them'.

Mr Peat said the provision of accommodation was traditional.

(Photograph omitted)