12 JUNE 1971, Page 8


The case for the Queen


When the Duke of Edinburgh referred recently to the criticisms of a 'distinguished Privy Councillor' he had cause, like Clive, to be astonished at his own moderation. The tone and content of Mr. Crossman's attack on the Queen seemed even at the time that one read it too bilious and malignant to have been actuated merely by the royal message to the Commons. it soon emerged that his wrath was really directed at the Duke him- self whose jocular remarks on an American iv programme some eighteen months ago on the rising cost of keeping the monarchy going appears to have irked Mr Crossman, then a member of the late Cabinet. 'Vulgar, unjust and untrue', he is alleged to have said about the Duke's remarks in an interview with Mr Ian Waller of the Sunday Tele- graph shortly after his famous article ap- peared. A vigorous exchange of incivilities is going on in the Times correspondence columns as to whether Mr Crossman actually used these words, but on the available evi- dence most of us would be surprised if he did not—or something very like them.

The Duke's remarks came at a time when the Labour party's electoral prospect was anything but favourable. It may well be that he irritated and embarrassed a Cabinet which was acutely aware both of the popularity of the royal family and of the necessity to do something about the Civil List but was not yet in a position to say quite what. Time pas- ses. No one can seriously think that the Con- servative victory a year ago owed anything to any observations by anyone about royal finances. Mr Crossman either under his own name, or that of 'Crux', or anonymously, seems to write a large part of the New Statesman. If he is going to use the space Which he makes available to himself in order to pay off even a few of the old scores resulting from his years in office, that emi- nent journal will soon become the prize bore of our day.

The case for an increase—and a large one —in the Civil List, i.e. the• payments made to the Queen as Head of State, is an over: whelming one. The figure was fixed at £475,000 in 1952 and, although £70,000 of this was set aside as a hedge against inflation to be saved and accumulated in order to offset the rising cost of the functions of the monarchy, that figure is clearly inadequate now, Since 1952 the value of the pound has decreased by 46 per cent (and is rapidly decreasing further). If the monarchy is to be carried on as hitherto, the argument for raising, under whatever headings, the total sum available is very strong. The expenses of the headship of the state can reasonably be compared with those of carrying on a major embassy. In 1951-52 the British Em- bassy in Paris cost £428,000. in Washington £1,238,000. Twenty years later the corres- ponding figures in the Estimates are £1,097,000 and £3,464,000. The parallel is not exact but the rise can be regarded as a broad indication of the sort of changes the Select Committee ought to 'consider—if the monarchy is to continue on its present basis.

This is the 'crux' of the problem if one may be permitted to use that particular fours

letter word. Does the public wish the Queen to continue to perform the ceremonial, prac- tical and other duties which she has fulfilled for the last two decades? Do people want her and her family to entertain in the style which has been associated with the monarchy for many years past, and at the same time to appear on the far more frequent public occasions which have become customary since she came to the throne? If so—and there is no evidence to the contrary—it is worth considering how much heavier the duties of the monarchy have become since the death of King George vi. The Queen at- tends many more engagements than any monarch ever has before. The Duke of Edin- burgh is one of the busiest and most active figures in British public life. Whereas previous monarchs only visited the vast areas then painted red upon the map at rare intervals, the Queen who is head of eleven self-govern. ing monarchies, and of the Commonwealth which comprises another twenty countries, has made a great many state visits. They have come to be an expected part of her duties, given the ease of modern travel. The cost of such visits, in so far as it is incurred within the countries concerned, is borne by the host governments but the expense involved in organising and arranging them is an added burden on the Civil List.

There is no need to fall into Crawfie-like postures of adulation to recognise the fact that the Queen works extremely hard and carries out with the utmost conscientiousness

a series of duties which fell nothing like so

heavily on her predecessors. A century ago the monarchy came under legitimate criti- cism because Queen Victoria, though con- scientious over the unseen tasks of mon- archy, the reading of papers, answering of correspondence, etc, had become an invisible recluse as far as the public was concerned, spending months on end in remote Balmoral scarcely ever seen by her subjects. It was hardly surprising that a republican movement, stimulated in part by the events of 1871 in Paris, should have made some limited pro- gress in Britain. It never got very far, Disraeli's most notable contribution to the monarchy was his success in persuading the Queen, as perhaps no one else could have done,' to come out of her retirement and thus take the sting out of this anti-monarchi- cal sentiment.

No one could argue that any comparable situation prevails today, As far as the public is concerned the monarchy is more on show than it has ever been before. But intellectual republicanism did not stem merely from Queen Victoria's invisibility. There has al- ways been a streak of opposition to mon- archy en principe. Bradlaugh, Keir Hardie and Mr William Hamilton, Ml', are succes- sive examples. Their opposition was and is based on a belief in equality and a feeling that the Crown in some way perpetuates and bolsters up the existing class structure of society. In a sense they are right. The mon- archy is not compatible with a violent social revolution. In another sense they are wrong, for the class structure of society has in fact changed out of all recognition in the last half-century and the monarchy has adapted itself to these changes with realism and common sense.

Since the vast majority of the nation de not want a social revolution anyway, and the republicans are well aware of the popularity of the Queen, the only mode of attack left to them is to snipe at particular aspects el an institution which in reality they dislike on quite other grounds. The principal charge which it used to be customary to bring was that of extravagance. But the truth here j5 plain enough to anyone with any knowledge. It would be perfectly possible to cut the cost of monarchy by cutting down the functions performed .by monarchy. The horses, the coaches, the general pageantry Could be re' moved, the style of entertainment could h, changed, there could be fewer public appear- ances, fewer overseas visits, fewer garden parties. Unquestionably such cuts would reduce the expenses of monarchy—perhaps quite substantially. But there is no reason at all to believe that monarchy as it nosy' functions could be run more cheaply. There have been repeated internal inquiries with a view to economy, including a very thorough o & M investigation, and it is most unlikely than any reductions of cost could be made without also changing the whole style and conduct of the monarchy—a change for which there is not only no articulate demand but which, as far as one can see, would almost certainly be resented by the great majority of the public.

The one remaining possibility for the re• publicans is to attack the monarchy on the ground of the tax-exemptions allowed—or alleged to be allowed—to the Queen's private fortune. It is argued that if the Queen seeks an increase in her allowance as Head Of State, then the question of the freedom of her private wealth from surtax and estate duty ought to be investigated. This is what has prompted Mr Crossman's observations 'royal tax-avoiders' and 'royal cheek'. There may be two views on the substantial issue. There can be only one on the offensive waY in which the observations were worded. It is worth noticing too that Mr Crossman made no reference to the Queen's suggestion that she might in future give up her Privy Purse (£60,000 per annum) as part of any fresh settlement of the Civil List.

The Queen's private possessions consist partly of pictures and other objects of art

which could not in any normal sense be said to 'belong' to her. They are in effect inalien-

able and actually cost a good deal of moneY to maintain. They are frequently on view and are often lent to exhibitions. She must also possess a substantial private fortune and it is a reasonable assumption that this is well managed by able advisers, and that it has risen a great deal during the last twenty years.

Whether one believes that it ought to be taxed in exactly the same way as the fortune of any other wealthy citizen depends on one's

view of monarchy. The equalitarians will have no doubts. But is there not at least a

case for the view that the Queen is not like

anyone else, and that the traditional exemP- dons, whatever they may be, should con•

tinue? Do we really want her to employ the high-powered lawyers, the tax accountants and the other experts who advise the very' rich on the various ways in which they can legally minimise the exactions of the state? Why should there not be this single exceP' tion to the ordinary rules? There is only one Queen of England. Why not continue to treat her as unique? But even if it is too much to hope for this in some quarters, at least she might be spared vulgar abuse.