Parliament and Politics: Civil List restrictions 'to emphasise dignity'

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MPs WERE told last night why they cannot examine whether taxpayers are getting value for money in the pounds 98m that the Queen and other royals will receive this decade under the Civil List.

The Public Accounts Committee placed a report from Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General, in the Commons library, Sir John explaining that the Civil List and related payments had been removed from annual scrutiny and vote by Parliament 'to emphasise the independence and dignity of the Monarch'.

Alan Williams, Labour MP for Swansea West, said the report showed that Parliament was 'not only toothless - it is blindfold'. Civil servants could see information that MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, Parliament's watchdog over public expenditure, could not examine.

The current 10-year settlement was awarded after a brief statement by the Prime Minister and without debate, Mr Williams, a member of the PAC said. A debate could only have been held had the Leader of the Opposition demanded it.

Under existing legislation, oversight of the Civil List is vested in the Royal Trustees - John Major as Prime Minister and Norman Lamont as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Keeper of the Privy Purse.

Sir John, whose task is to examine value for money in central government spending, has told the PAC that he does certify the civil list payments, but his audit is only to ensure that the payments comply with the law. He has 'no locus in, or access to, the accounts dealing with Civil List expenditure or other Royal Accounts . . . and therefore no examination of the economy, efficiency or effectiveness of such expenditure' can be carried out by his office.

The committee itself cannot launch a study because the accounts are not laid before Parliament.

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