Leading Article: Loyal subjects face Her Majesty's queue

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READERS should think carefully before they visit Buckingham Palace during the two months it is open this summer. If they turn up at the Mall at 9.30am, they may well find a queue of 5,000 people already waiting for tickets. There they will stand with their tired and impatient children, shuffling forwards every few seconds and marvelling at the price of the traditional lukewarm fizzy drinks. At the front of the line, two hours later, they will be asked to pay pounds 8 per adult and pounds 4 per child, and ordered to come back at a specified hour later in the day, with dire warnings of the consequences if they are late. On their return, they may have to queue once more before being allowed into the Palace. Only then will they be able to troop quietly around the 18 rooms that Her Majesty graciously has allowed them to see.

This prediction may sound like a piece of propaganda disseminated by anti-monarchists hoping for the failure of the Queen's attempt to finance repairs to Windsor Castle through the two- month opening of Buckingham Palace. In fact, it is a customer's view of the careful plans laid by Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd, as the Queen's trading arm is known. For far from looking for a more intelligent way to manage the opening, the Queen's officials are content for the queues to last until lunchtime every day, and for families on day- trips to London to be forced to keep the whole day free until they know when they will be allowed into the Palace.

Their plans have two evident flaws. One is that they intend to employ only about four ticket-sellers - too few for the 8,000 impatient tourists expected each morning. The other is that Palace officials have a hatred of ticket touts, and their arrangements have been designed with the express object of preventing touts from making money. Yet people buy from touts only when they cannot easily get tickets any other way; by forcing Her Majesty's customers to queue for a total of more than 200,000 hours this year, and to waste perhaps the same amount of time later in the day, the organisers are creating the ideal conditions for a secondary market in Palace tickets.

Rather than employ policemen to chase the touts around St James's Park, as they intend to, the directors of Royal Collection Enterprises would do better to change their system to render touting unnecessary. They might sell tickets in advance over the telephone by credit card, as theatres and opera houses do, with customers choosing when they want to come and producing their credit cards as identification on arrival. A reservation charge could be made to cover the administrative cost of doing so, and to reflect the greater convenience of not having to queue. But that is only one of many possible solutions. What seems clear is that nothing could be worse than the current plans, and nothing more likely to turn some of the Queen's loyal subjects against her.

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