By Paul Goodman
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Contrary to appearances, this column isn't a collective advertisment for the speeches of Jacob Rees-Mogg on the monarchy. But they tend to be so quotable as to compel reporting. The member for North East Somerset spoke yesterday during the committee stage of the Sovereign Grant Bill yesterday. He made five main points:
"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”.
"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."
"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."
"…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."
"…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.