Opinion: Reform of the Duchy of Cornwall – on the cards?

Lord Berkeley’s “Rights of the Sovereign and Duchy of Cornwall Bill” is due to have its second reading in the Lords on 8 November. He has been quoted as saying he wants to “provoke a debate”, and it may be supposed that Bill is likely to be defeated at its second reading. As it would affect the Prince’s private interests, it would require his consent in order to progress. He has given his consent to several bills in the past, according to the Parliament website. It is surprising how many bills require his consent. This is also explained in Erskine May.

One purpose of the Bill which is surely uncontroversial is to alter the rules of succession to the Duchy, so that the Sovereign’s eldest child inherits the title, irrespective of gender. The rules of succession to the Crown itself have been altered in this way recently by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 (though it still has to be brought into force by the Lord President of the Council).

It has received some press coverage, but none I have found recently – and the British Monarchist Society is against the Bill.

I know that it says in the Bill that his consent will not be required in future for any Bill to pass, but surely this cannot apply to a Bill removing the requirement of consent. It could not be passed without his consent. It would be a constitutional change, and if the intention is to confiscate private property, this is (arguably) against Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, as the Duchy was created by Act of Parliament, surely it can be reformed in the same way. King Edward III and his Parliament established the Duchy of Cornwall.

Lord Berkeley proposes that the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Princes William and Harry would be included in the Civil List (using money provided by Parliament under the Sovereign Grants Acts). That is, instead of being supported by the income of the Duchy, and that the Duchy estate would in future be administered by a “public trust” for the benefit of the people of Cornwall. This would in effect mean that the people of the UK would be supporting through their taxes a charity (or quango) benefiting only the people of one county, country or dukedom, call it what you will.

I cannot see that this would be fair, any more than that the Queen’s Duchy of Lancaster estate should be made into a charity or quango to support only the people of Lancashire. The Duchy is not an exclusively Cornish possession. It does not belong to the Prince of Wales personally, but equally it does not belong to the people of Cornwall. It is an asset of the United Kingdom.

Some of the history is explained in the report of Prince’s Case in which the High Court ruled on a dispute between King James I and the Prince of Wales.

Any change to the succession to the Duchy would surely require an amendment to be passed to the Act of Parliament passed in the 11th year of the Reign of Edward III, and a new Royal Charter.

Readers may recall that In Evans v Information Commissioner the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber) ordered the disclosure of information about Prince Charles’s correspondence, but this was vetoed by the Attorney General under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I cannot see that this bill is likely to fare any better.

Some reform of the Duchy may well be appropriate, but I suggest that this bill is not the way to do it, though it will no doubt provoke a debate going wider than the issues which it raises.

* Michael Hall is a retired solicitor who specialised in property law and is now the Treasurer of Orpington Liberal Club (www.orpingtonliberalclub.co.uk).

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  • I would strongly support changes to the special status of the Duchies of both Cornwall and Lancaster. We have faced the prospect here of massive development in the Green Belt, on Duchy of Lancaster land. The Borough Council initially supported the development in order to secure permission to widen a road. The Duchy, you see, cannot be subject to compulsory purchase and can therefore demand pretty well any price to allow use of its land, even for important community schemes such as roads or schools.

  • Christine Headley 31st Oct '13 - 10:29pm

    If you die intestate in Cornwall or Lancashire and heirs cannot be found, your estate goes to the respective duchy, rather than the government.
    While I like to buy organic, I won’t buy Duchy-labelled produce from Waitrose!

  • Michael Hall raises some very interesting points.

    He says – The Duchy is not an exclusively Cornish possession. It does not belong to the Prince of Wales personally, but equally it does not belong to the people of Cornwall. It is an asset of the United Kingdom.

    Just think about that sentence for a moment and consider what has happened to UK assets since 1979.
    A large number of assets of the United Kingdom have been flogged off to make a fast buck for sort term political advantage. Most recently my postman (well the so-called Royal Mail) has been flogged. Over the last thirty years the UK’s coal and steel assets, gas and electricity assets, water assets and many more have been flogged at knockdown prices. Most have ended up in the ownership of remote and unaccountable multi-national interests who now organise those assets for their own profit at the expense of the UK and its people.

    The assets which are currently organised to provide profit and comfortable palaces and lands for members of the Royal Family are already in the position that the former UK assets listed above have now reached. The Royal Family is a remote and unaccountable multi-national interest. They are the Royal Family of 16 separate countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand being the obvious three. Award yourself a prize if you can name all the others.

    So maybe the Duchy of Cornwall should be made an exclusively Cornish possession organised for the benefit of the people of Cornwall.
    It would certainly be better than the status quo. Will I be sent to the Tower for suggesting this?

  • nvelope2003 1st Nov '13 - 10:32am

    The Duchy of Cornwall owns land in Somerset, Wiltshire, Kennington in London and possibly other places. I am not sure that the people of Kennington, Stoke sub Hamdon (Somerset) and Mere (Wiltshire) would wish the Cornish people to have the profits from Duchy land> Maybe we should ask them ?

  • John Gillingham 2nd Nov '13 - 7:35pm

    “The Duchy is not an exclusively Cornish possession. It does not belong to the Prince of Wales personally, but equally it does not belong to the people of Cornwall.”

    Where did the Duchy generate most of its money? From Cornwall’s mineral wealth, that’s where! Most of this was as taxation by the Duchy on tin miners, and they were taxed at double the rate that other miners in Britain were taxed until the 1820s!

    What has this mining left us in Cornwall? Silted up harbours and ports, holes in the ground with subsidence swallowing up houses, wastelands of arsenic and other heavy metals on which virtually nothing will grow. Elsewhere in the UK funds were set aside to put right things like subsidence from the coal mines, and that was a legal requirement, but not in Cornwall. No, the Duchy wouldn’t have liked that eating into its profits, stopping it buying up less polluted farmland in England.

  • I think the author of this report should re-evaluate what he considers to be fair.

    1. Is it fair that Cornwall continues to shoulder the lions share of the burden for the Dukes vast fortune?
    2. Is it fair that none of the wealth generated over the entire history of the Duchy was ever re-invested back into Cornwall for the benefit of the Cornish, their culture, language economy for instance?
    3. If you dispute the above point, why does Cornwall continue after over a decade to qualify for the very highest level of funding from Europe, and is classed as one of the poorest regions in Europe?
    4. Why must Cornwall have all of it’s European funding administered from outside of Cornwall? The only region in Britain to be subjected to this?
    5. Why is bona vacantia required to be re-invested back into the Duchy of Lancaster, where no such rule applies to the Duke in his capacity in Cornwall? Check the publicly viewable accounts, you will see pittance coming back into Cornwall!

    In fact when it comes to fairness and equal re-investment from either the greedy Duchy, or any British government you care to remember, the fairness is pretty much a one way street out of Cornwall. Cornwalls assets belong to the Cornish people, and should be there for the benefit of all Cornish people, and not one unimaginably wealthy man and his family, and equally, i would not trust the British government to-manage those assets either, it should be brought under the control of a devolved administration within Cornwall!

  • John Gillingham 2nd Nov ’13 – 7:35pm
    “The Duchy is not an exclusively Cornish possession. It does not belong to the Prince of Wales personally, but equally it does not belong to the people of Cornwall.”

    Where did the Duchy generate most of its money? From Cornwall’s mineral wealth, that’s where!

    John Gilingham hits the tin nail on the head here. Crewegwym and Christine Headley also point up other dubious practices by those who rake in the cash for the idle Prince and is family. The more one considers this Duchy anachronism the more one is tempted to say “Off with their heads”. As it is unlikely that regicide will become Liberal Democrat policy before 2015 maybe we could aim for just cleaning up the stink around the Duchy finances?

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