Edward Leigh and Jacob Rees-Mogg on the Sovereign Grant Bill

14th July, 2011, House of Commons

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I am humbled, Mr Evans, that you should have called me before my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I am grateful that there is somebody who is even more royalist and reactionary than me in the Chamber; my hon. Friend reminds me of one of the French courtiers who was plus royaliste que le roi—more royalist than the king—and that is no bad thing.

Of course I agree with the substance of what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is trying to do today, but I hope that he will accept a couple of bits of advice or warnings. The constitutional position of the monarch and Back Benchers is rather similar: we warn and we advise. The difference is that the Queen does so in private and is listened to and we do so in public and were never listened to, but we will try our best. 

[Interruption.]

Well, perhaps we are listened to sometimes. I am a bit worried about some parts of the Bill, particularly about how fixed in concrete the sum of money is.

We all know that there is no point having the British monarchy as a cycling monarchy or having it on the cheap. I know from my experience of looking at the accounts during the last two Parliaments that they are right on the edge of the £34 million. If one was trying to maintain extremely expensive buildings—I am not just talking about Frogmore now, but about large and complex buildings such as Buckingham palace or places such as Windsor great park—one would struggle. Some people, particularly in this House and particularly those with a slightly republican bent, might say that we are all making sacrifices, but this is part of our national heritage and it is not as if they are living in anything like the whole palace. They have a modest flat: as we know from one of the tabloid stings, the Queen lives very modestly with her Tupperware in a small flat in Buckingham palace. Ultimately, we, the public, are benefiting from Buckingham palace, Windsor and St James’s palace and they must be properly maintained. I am not sure whether we might need looser arrangements so that—I will not use the phrase “raid the reserves”—there is some sort of mechanism to handle that. Will the Chancellor comment on that when he sums up? It is terribly important that there should not be a constant constraint on the treasurer of the royal household to skimp on maintaining the royal palaces, because that is clearly happening at the moment.

Paul Flynn: One example of many of royal spending was a trip by Prince Charles and Camilla from Buckingham palace to Balmoral for which the taxpayer—[ Interruption. ]

Jacob Rees-Mogg: On a point of order, Mr Evans. I wonder whether you would rule on the correct way of referring to Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): I think that respect for members of the royal family is warranted and it would therefore be appropriate to show proper respect in referring to them in the House.

Paul Flynn: I shall ask the question again. Is it an example of people with financial limits skimping when the heir to the throne and his wife take a journey that costs £29,000 without any public engagements being involved—the journey was a private one—and send that bill to the taxpayers?

Mr Leigh: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has made that point. He is making the precise point I want to make, although we come from different directions, of course. That is the danger. As so often happens in the House of Commons, we are rushing at things and there are many unforeseen consequences; it would have been preferable to consider the Bill more closely and for longer. The point that the hon. Gentleman has made will be made in the Public Accounts Committee and such subjects will be dragged into the public debate.

Why do I think that is dangerous? Let me make it clear that I am not against the move in any way. I welcome it and I am grateful that the Chancellor had a private word to brief me on this before he made his announcement. I am grateful for what he is doing, which is in response to the constant campaign that we members of the PAC have waged for many years to have greater transparency. No present or previous member of the PAC and nobody in Parliament doubts that we want more transparency about the public duties, the official travel, the official expenses and so on. That is modern, transparent and right.

The difficulty is where we draw the line. I am worried that the PAC and the Comptroller and Auditor General will gradually be dragged into the debate on precisely the sort of point that the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has made. How will the system work? The CAG will effectively be able to look at everything, but a defence is built into clause 13. The clause states:

Any reference to the support of Her Majesty’s official duties includes the maintenance of Royal Palaces and related land.

That is fair enough. Subsection (9) states:

Any reference to the Royal Household if limited to that Household so far as it is concerned with the support of Her Majesty’s official duties.

The clause also states:

Any reference to the use of resources is to their expenditure, consumption or reduction in value.”

I suspect that subsection (9) was included to try to prevent the whole debate from widening to cover the private travel, private expenses and private servants of the royal family. Why is there a danger?

Paul Flynn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Leigh: May I make some progress first? I want to develop this point and if the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied he can come back to me.

If the PAC was a normal Select Committee that set its own agenda, we would have some people who were very pro-royal family and some who were not so pro, and there would be tremendous pressure on the Chairman in private sessions, with people saying, “We want to look at this aspect of travel,” “Why did the Prince of Wales make this official trip and spend all this money,” or “Why did they bring all their servants?” There would be a great argy-bargy. At the moment, our defence is that, uniquely, the PAC’s agenda is set not by the Committee or politicians but by the Comptroller and Auditor General. That acts as a kind of backstop to protect the royal family, but the changes could bring a real danger for them. Why? Because we do not live in an entirely fair world.

The royal family is not like the Department for Work and Pensions—I shall not labour this point because I made it in the last debate on this. When the PAC looks at the DWP or another Department, it does its work and investigates the spending of billions of pounds, which is sometimes spent wisely and often not so wisely. With those reports there is limited public interest and the report tends to get into The Times, the Financial Times or the serious pages of The Guardian. With the royal family, things are completely different: not only is there massive public interest and huge pressure from journalists, but some newspapers have an agenda of constantly attacking the royal family and its members.

Paul Flynn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Leigh: I am going to develop my point; the hon. Gentleman can come in later.

We have seen that agenda in the Daily Mail campaign against the Prince of Wales and in the Murdoch press—against many members of the royal family. We are getting into dangerous territory.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Leigh: Let me go on a bit and then I shall give way to both hon. Members, as I want to be fair to both sides.

When I was the Chairman of the Committee I put no pressure on the Comptroller and Auditor General, but members of the Committee, including the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), who is present, Mr Alan Williams and others quite rightly had serious questions about the royal family. They took a particular view and were always agitating for us to do more work, but I was able to say that it was not my decision. It was the decision of the Comptroller and Auditor General who, frankly, took quite a conservative approach and did not allow many reports to come to the Committee or do much initial work. Although there is massive public and media interest in this issue, particularly in the tabloid press, there is much more important work that we need to be doing on public expenditure.

Hon. Members might ask what I am worried about, given that we can surely rely on the Comptroller and Auditor General—although I think that he will be under a lot of pressure via members of the PAC because they are eternally under pressure from the media to raise these sorts of questions. Why am I worried about all this? Because I wonder whether clause 13 is an adequate defence. How do we define exactly what are the private affairs of the Queen? We know what she does in the homes that she owns—in Sandringham or Balmoral. We know about the gardener and the cook she employs and about private travel around the estate. That is completely out of all this. but what about what goes on in Buckingham palace and Windsor great park? Is the Comptroller and Auditor General going to be under pressure to investigate value for money, the number of servants and what happens with the private office? When does official travel start and when does private travel start? There have been attacks on Prince Andrew for taking official trips and then going on elsewhere to play golf. There will be more and more pressure mounting all the time and that could be extraordinarily damaging to the royal family, which is a very fragile institution. In no other major country is there a royal family; it survives on public opinion and I am afraid that there are some people, particularly in the tabloid press, who simply are not fair and who want to go on pushing and pushing because they want as damaging a story as possible. I shall now give way to the hon. Member for Newport West because he asks about precisely the sort of story that they will try to raise through the National Audit Office and the PAC.

Paul Flynn: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, although I am sorry that he has not answered my question about why a multi-millionaire should send a bill to the taxpayer for a private visit. May I take him back to his previous speech to the House on this issue in which he spoke as the former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee—the guardian of the taxpayer’s interest—when he said that he had approved royal spending that he described as “fantastically wasteful”? Is that the way to guard the taxpayer’s interest?

Mr Leigh: The fact is that we must take everything in the round. I was making comparisons with the Heads of State of Germany and Italy, which are republican institutions that cost more and have virtually no public impact whatsoever and do nothing for the economy. I am afraid that it makes absolutely no sense in providing value for money to Great Britain plc to get rid of the monarchy. I do not accept that the institution of the monarchy is fantastically wasteful.

Mr Spencer: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as we are talking not only about the Head of State but about the next in line to the crown of this great nation of ours, they should be allowed to travel in such a manner? Can he imagine a circumstance where the President of the United States arrived in the UK on easyJet? We should be proud that the head of this nation is allowed to travel in such style.

Mr Leigh: We live in such a public world now that the Prime Minister took Ryanair when he went on holiday.

Mr Davidson: I am grateful to the former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for giving way, and I have to tell my colleagues that he is not nearly as bad a man as he often appears. Does he accept that there is a difference between what the royal family undertake as their public duties, which should, quite rightly, be examined by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority or a similar organisation, and what they undertake in their private lives, which should not be accessible to the public? Does he accept that extravagances in their private lives should not be charged to the public purse? That really is the difference. Like the hon. Gentleman, I recognise that we do not wish to intrude into every element of that family’s life; but if they do not want us to intrude, they should not charge such things to the public.

Mr Leigh: I am not sure whether the Queen or the Prince of Wales charges “extravagant” aspects of their private lives to the public purse, but what worries me is that if Prince Charles went on an official trip to America and took so many hairdressers, butlers, private secretaries and all the rest, the media and the hon. Gentleman, if he was still a member of the PAC, would immediately demand a public inquiry, and there would be a gradual drip, drip of attacks in the tabloid press against the royal family. We should be aware of that and warn about it. That is why the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General is absolutely crucial; he is not a politician. The reason I am making these remarks—if he reads Hansard—is that he must stand firm and make an overall judgment.

Mr Davidson: I can assure the House that, when I have travelled abroad, I have certainly never taken a hairdresser with me.

The sort of rules that apply to the Prime Minister ought to apply to the royal family in this context. The Prime Minister and senior members of the Government must have a certain degree of support and status when they travel abroad on parliamentary and official business. The royals similarly ought to have some status when they travel abroad. However, the two ought to be comparable. To be fair, the Prime Minister has never taken hairdressers, butlers, valets, chauffeurs or anything similar with him.

Mr Leigh: This debate is useful in a way, because it shows precisely the problem. I understand that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have taken extremely modest entourages and staff on previous trips. Apparently, the Duchess has had more than 37 different changes of outfit in America and Canada. I do not suppose that the Prime Minister or even the hon. Gentleman changes his outfit 37 times when he goes on Select Committee trips abroad. There is a completely different order of scale between a Head of State, who is part of the ornamental part of the constitution and who represents our country, and even the Prime Minister. If we are now to have questions and relentless pressure in the PAC about how many dresses need to be taken on every royal trip, it will be ridiculous, and it would start to make the royal family look more and more ridiculous. That is what I am warning against.

Mr Kevan Jones: Does the hon. Gentleman think that this country’s defence budget should subsidise the royal flight? If we believe what was reported in The Mail on Sunday last week, the Ministry of Defence did the right thing by charging the going rate for use of the royal flight. Only because of complaints to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by the Prince of Wales was that amount reduced. Therefore, every flight that the royal family takes is being subsidised by the defence budget. That cannot be right.

Mr Leigh: I do not know the exact truth about that particular aspect.

Mr Osborne: The part about my involvement is completely untrue.

Mr Leigh: All that I know—the Public Accounts Committee having had all those accounts over the past two decades—is that steps are constantly being taken to deliver a better-value-for-money monarchy. If that is not true, why has the cost gone down from £49 million to £34 million? I shall sit down now, because we are only on clause 1 stand part.

Paul Flynn rose—

Mr Leigh: I will not give way; I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman once. I want to emphasise this point to the Chancellor: I hope that there is a flexible arrangement, so that we can protect the structure of the royal palaces. I sincerely hope that the Comptroller and Auditor General will take a very conservative—with a small c—view of his responsibilities when he draws up reports, and that he will focus them absolutely and firmly on the public duties of the royal family, in the spirit of the Bill.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con) rose—

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): Is the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) giving way, or has he sat down?

Mr Leigh: My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) is desperate to get in, so I give way to him.

Stephen Phillips: I am not sure that I have ever been desperate to get into anything. I think it was in 2005, when my hon. Friend was the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, that the Committee published a report, which he will probably remember, that drew attention to a potential conflict of interest between the Duke of Cornwall and future Dukes of Cornwall. That is not addressed at all in the Bill. Does he share my hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deal with that point in his wind-up, and that the Government will look at the issue in future?

Mr Leigh: That is a serious and important point. We have had mention of the Duchy of Cornwall; I should say that we did some trailblazing work in our hearing about the duchy. The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) will remember that we ranged widely over all aspects of its management. One of the issues that we raised was whether we should maximise resources—income and capital—for the present Duke of Cornwall, or for future generations. I hope that the Chancellor can also reply to that point when he winds up.

Several hon. Members rose 

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): As Members can see, there are at least six people trying to get in on the debate on this clause; we are incredibly time-limited, and I ask people to respect that.

Mr Kevan Jones: The aim of the Bill is right: to provide the sovereign with the funds that she and other members of the royal family require to do their public duties. I do not think that there is any disagreement on that at all.

On the point about how we arrived at 15%, I welcome the Chancellor’s acceptance of some of the amendments in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), but there are a few questions still to be answered. I understand why the amount is set at 15%—to get to the figure of £34 million in future years—but my concern is that if we are to have a proper look at what the sovereign costs, we should include all costs, and then determine that the Government or state should provide the money to the sovereign for carrying out those duties.

I accept that there is greater transparency under the Bill, which is welcome, but the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) seems to think that we will somehow be intruding into areas into which we should not go. I am sorry, but if we are talking about public money, its spending has to be scrutinised, as does the spending of public money by any Government Department. My concern is that we arrived at the £34 million figure, based on 15%, without taking into account the moneys that go from Government Departments to the royal household to support the royal family in their duties. I shall talk about defence, an area that I know more about, as a former Defence Minister.

A large number of individuals in the armed forces—I have asked how many—have a role supporting the royal household. Some people might question whether that is necessary, but I think that it is, because they play an important role in supporting the monarch and other members of the royal family. However, I do not think that the costs involved should come out of the defence budget, as they currently do. The costs should be taken from the moneys we pay to support the sovereign’s work, because those men and women of the armed forces clearly do an important job in supporting the sovereign in her duties as Head of State, but we do not know what those costs amount to.

Similarly, is it legitimate for Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the royal family to use private aircraft for state duties? I fully support that, not just from a security point of view, but because of the status that we wish to give members of the royal family when they represent this country on royal duties, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) suggested. However, I do not think that the defence budget should be used to subsidise that expenditure. For example, if it costs a set amount for the RAF to fly Her Majesty or any other member of the royal family somewhere, that amount should rightly be met by the taxpayer if it is an official duty.

Mr Spencer: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that defending our nation includes defending our Head of State?

Mr Jones: Yes, but what I am talking about does not relate to security. I am talking about equerries and other people who play a vital role in running the royal household and who are important in Her Majesty’s representational role. In the previous debate people tried to conflate the two issues, but I am talking about ceremonial duties that are being paid for from the defence budget.

Dr Murrison: Until recently the hon. Gentleman was a Defence Minister, and a very good one, so I wonder, since he feels so passionately about this, what efforts he made to identify those costs.

Mr Jones: I also chaired the value for money group in the Ministry of Defence, and those costs were on the radar screen for the work it was carrying out. There is a sense of grievance in the MOD and the armed forces that this money comes out of the defence budget. There should be some recognition of this vital work, but it should not come out of the defence budget. That would also avoid the nonsense that we saw last week in The Mail on Sunday, which claimed that the Prince of Wales and other members of the royal family stopped using the royal flight because the cost was being charged to the royal household. I understand that after representations were made to the Treasury the cost was reduced by £6,000 an hour for the use of one of the royal flights. Therefore, a basic subsidy is going to the royal household from the defence budget, which I do not think is right. If the full cost of the royal flight is £13,000 an hour, the Government should pay for that to support members of the royal family who need to travel on official duties. I have no problem with that, but I have a problem with where it comes from and how it is accounted for.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that these military equerries and the like are on secondment from military duties? They remain military officers in the service of the Crown via the Ministry of Defence, so it is quite appropriate that they should be paid by the Ministry of Defence?

Mr Jones: No, I am not suggesting that somehow they should be taken out of the military while they do these duties, because there is an important link between the royal household and the military, but I do not think that they should be paid for from the defence budget while they are on these duties. In trying to get full transparency in what the royal household costs and therefore what the sovereign grant should be, we need to know about all these other costs so that we assess what is needed to support the sovereign in her work as Head of State. There needs to be transparency.

The Chancellor said earlier that the NAO could look at this, but there is nothing in the Bill that says it will look at costs in kind in relation to the Ministry of Defence and other budgets. If we are to ensure that the royal household has the money needed for the royal family to do their official duties, it is important that there is transparency and that the costs do not fall on the Ministry of Defence, for example.

Some people argue that there should be a cap every year on the sovereign grant. That is possibly a bit too blunt a mechanism. I accept what the Chancellor has said about the size of the reserve. However, if we are to ensure that the efficiencies that have taken place so far in the royal household continue, we need to consider not only how the sovereign grant, but the reserve, is spent each year. It would be quite easy to run the reserve down each year to ensure that more money is needed every year. There needs to be some scrutiny of exactly how the reserve is spent.

The next issue is what the sovereign grant is spent on. At the moment, some of the arrangements are totally inefficient in that the Government are paying the royal household and then being paid back for services. There is a debate to be had about whether the royal palaces are royal households or part of the history of this country that should be paid for by the taxpayer. The places currently covered by grant in aid are Buckingham palace, St James’s palace, Clarence house, the Royal Mews, the residence and offices in the area of Kensington palace, the royal paddock at Hampton Court, and Windsor castle and the buildings in Home park and Great park. The list is quite well defined. It would be interesting to know whether the sovereign grant will be limited to being spent on those places or there will be flexibility to use the money for other households. In 1990, Marlborough house was added to the list of properties that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport supports through grant in aid. To ensure that we are not cross-subsidising things that are already covered, it will be important for the Chancellor or the trustees to clarify exactly what the sovereign grant could be spent on; otherwise, other properties that are not currently covered by the civil list or grant in aid payments could be included. That is an important point.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) about the titillation factor in looking at what the royal household spends money on. However, the core point is that this is Government—public—money. If we do not want the royal family to be denigrated but rather to gain support for them, one way would be to ensure that the sovereign grant is well spent and that people see that that is the case. We accept that some items are very expensive to undertake, such as the upkeep of royal palaces and—I have to agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough—the way in which people have to travel for security reasons, but there must be an emphasis on ensuring that the taxpayer gets value for money. That is a way of strengthening support for the sovereign and the work that she and her family do on behalf of the nation. If we going to get this right, and the Bill is a good attempt at trying to do so, we must ensure that we not only get value for money but are very clear and honest to everybody about all moneys that are spent on supporting the sovereign in the work that she does.

Michael Ellis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: I was about to conclude, but go on.

Michael Ellis: The hon. Gentleman refers to concern about value for money. Does he accept that the royal family bring in hundreds of millions of pounds to the state every year as juxtaposed with the few millions that it costs to run the royal family, most of which is spent on public buildings?

Mr Jones: That is another debate and it is difficult to quantify what the hon. Gentleman says is brought in. I do not just look at this in terms of money, but take the more fundamental view that we have a Head of State and should support her in the work that she does on behalf of this nation. What I am saying is that we need to be clear about what that costs. We should be honest about how much it costs, even if it costs more than £34 million, and not hide the way in which moneys are spent.

I broadly welcome the thrust of the Bill, but I hope that the NAO report looks not just at how royal expenditure is spent on the sovereign grant, but at other moneys that are paid to the royal household. It might suggest, for example, that the money that comes from the Ministry of Defence should not come out of defence expenditure.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The shadow Chancellor concluded his remarks by saying that he had looked up the Commons Journal for 1760. He is, of course, a very modern man. I went a little earlier and looked up the Commons Journal for 1575. I thank the Library for its assistance in helping me to find what I was looking for. I was looking for the behaviour of the House towards a Mr Peter Wentworth, a man who represented a Cornish seat and had the temerity to criticise the then sovereign, Elizabeth I. He said that

none is without fault, no, not our noble Queen”.

For this “prepared speech” and 

 “divers offensive matters touching Her Majesty

he was taken prisoner to the Tower and held there for a month at the insistence of the House of Commons. I must say that I think they knew how to behave in 1575, and it is a model for us today.

I want to come on to who really owns the Crown Estate, because that is important in this discussion. That is why I intervened on the Chancellor, and I am grateful to him for taking my intervention. It is important to remember that the Crown Estate is the property of the sovereign in an ultimate sense, though gifted for a reign. The importance of that is that the sovereign therefore has a right to ask for money. One might think that they would get the money anyway, but sovereigns have been promised money by Parliament that has been stopped. One just needs to go back to Charles II, who handed over all his feudal dues to the Government for £100,000 a year in perpetuity for all his heirs and successors. I am not sure that that £100,000 has been paid once in the last three hundred and some odd years. The Crown, by virtue of owning the Crown Estate, can guarantee that it is entitled to a revenue. The fact that at the beginning of each reign it could theoretically demand the Crown Estate back is important reassurance and a reassertion of that right.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Is my hon. Friend conscious of the fact that at the time of the secret treaty of Dover in 1670, the Crown would not recall Parliament because Louis XIV insisted that we should do what the French and the rest of the Europeans wanted, in return for which he would give enough money to Charles II to keep him in with his mistresses and the royal household in the manner to which he felt he should be accustomed?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I remember the secret treaty of Dover well, although I was not an active participant. However, it is not particularly relevant to this debate. It has to be borne in mind that Louis XIV did not deliver the cash, which is always a slight problem in such negotiations.

The Crown Estate belongs to the sovereign. Any other great landowner who has inherited land owns that property outright and is free to pass it from generation to generation. The Crown Estate is in that position. We have discussed before whether, because it is exempt from death duties or because it used to be used to pay for Government expenditure, it is in some sense different and the nation’s. I would argue that that reasoning is not accurate. In the same way that the feudal duties that fell upon other landowners were abolished as time went on, so the Crown Estate would in all normal circumstances have become the Queen’s outright.

I therefore go back to my point, which the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) dislikes, that the Queen pays an 85% tax rate. There would be £200 million or more in income for the Queen every year, but in fact there will be only about £30 million. So Her Majesty is the highest-paying taxpayer in this country. Members of Parliament might like to think that we could do a deal with the Government, hand over our salary and be given £9,000 a year back.

Mr Davidson: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is a distinction between the monarch as an individual and the monarchy as an institution? The Crown Estate is the property of the state, inasmuch as it is the property of the monarchy as an institution, not the monarch as an individual. It is therefore untrue to say that the monarch as an individual is paying 85% tax.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think it is immeasurably confusing when we start trying to divide the Queen up in that way. Her Majesty is our sovereign, full stop. She is one person, indivisible. She is not the trinity—Her Majesty the Queen, Her Majesty Mrs Windsor and Her Majesty the third party of the trinity. It does not work like that. She is one sovereign individual.

The next point that I want to make is one on which I agree, as I often do, actually, with the right hon. Member for North Durham. [Hon. Members: “Honourable.”] I am so sorry, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). It is in Her Majesty’s gift, of course, to promote him, and perhaps she might have looked more favourably on that if he had been a bit more loyal in his comments. However, I agree with his point that we have to pay for the constitution that we have. The Queen is not here to bring in tourism and things like that. She is here as an essential part of our constitution. That is why it is worth the military taking on the costs of sending attachés and so on and so forth. The military owe their loyalty to the Crown, not to politicians, senior generals or people who could abuse that power to change how this country is run.

Our constitutional settlement, which works extraordinarily well and has worked well for hundreds of years, is worth paying for. On that basis, we get stability as a nation and the effective operation of our constitutional system. The judges owe loyalty to the Crown; the military owe loyalty to the Crown; we, as Members of Parliament, swear an oath to the Crown. It is the Crown that is at the pinnacle of our constitution, outside and above politics and a defender of our liberties. Indeed, as Charles I said at the scaffold, he died the martyr of the people, because he had been defending the liberties of the people, as the Queen has done now for jolly nearly 60 years. We must be willing to pay the right price for our constitutional settlement, and I think that should be a generous price.

Michael Ellis: Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that each sovereign since 1760 has been asked by successive Governments to sign over the proceeds of the Crown Estate, in and of itself, proves that the estate belongs not to the country but to the person of the sovereign?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend is of course right.

It is often said that Her Majesty is the golden thread that binds our nation together, and the key part of that phrase is the word “golden”. Her Majesty is not the cotton thread, or the silver thread, or the woollen thread, she is a golden thread that binds the nation together as one unique, great and noble nation.

Paul Flynn rose 

Jacob Rees-Mogg: It is always an honour to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Paul Flynn: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way before he goes into hyper-rant. Does he realise that the fantasy that he is describing has been changed by the fact that many hon. Members, who are forced to say an oath—they have no choice—put a preamble to that oath that alters its meaning? The process of a decision to go to war was changed when the House decided to vote on wars in 2003, and probably on all future wars.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: There is a completely separate question, outside the remit of this debate, on the prerogative powers. It has well been established that the prerogative can be bound by legislation, and legislation comes from this House. However, that has very little to do with the Crown Estate and the financing of our sovereign, which, as I said, is something that we should do properly.

We then have the question of scrutiny and the Public Accounts Committee. I make no bones about it, I think it is inelegant, ungallant and improper to look at every biscuit that Her Majesty wishes to buy. I think Her Majesty should have as many biscuits as she likes, and if they are chocolate Bath Olivers rather than Rich Tea, so be it. I just do not think it right for a Committee of this House to look into that.

There is a risk—my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) put this incredibly well, as he always does—of people using that for political advantage. That may have changed, because yesterday, sitting in this Chamber, we suddenly discovered that all politicians now loathe the press and think that they are not worth dealing with, so my previous concern that members of the Public Accounts Committee might use investigating the monarchy to get publicity is clearly no longer true, because they so dislike the press that even to appear on the front page of the newspapers would be such an embarrassment that they would eschew the opportunity. However, times may change again, and it is of serious concern to me that the Public Accounts Committee could spend time looking at the £35 million spent on the sovereign grant rather than at the £6 billion that was wasted by the Ministry of Defence. We really do not want to get into a situation in which the PAC concentrates on something that is de minimis in the broader scheme of things because that is more appealing in terms of publicity.

Let me conclude—[ Interruption. ] Thank you. Let me conclude with the words of Her Majesty on her 21st birthday in South Africa:

I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Mr Evans, God save the Queen.