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Sunday, 21 April 2013

My letter to Nick Clegg

Here is the text of a letter that I have written to Nick Clegg:

Dear Mr Clegg,
The Constitutional Status of the Duchy of Cornwall

Someone once remarked:

“It’s the Tamar not the Amazon, for heaven’s sake.”
The Tamar may not be the second longest river in the world, up to six miles wide in places or carry twenty per cent of the world’s fresh water to the ocean but it does provide a natural border for the historic nation of Cornwall. 

As the Deputy Leader of Mebyon Kernow, Cllr Andrew Long pointed out:

“While the people of Cornwall don’t need a lesson in geography from him, David Cameron could do with a history lesson from us.”
The river Tamar is the ancient boundary between England and the Duchy of Cornwall. It marks where many constitutional privileges which accrue to the Queen end. It also marks where many constitutional privileges which accrue to the Duke of Cornwall begin.

Today it’s not the history of the Duchy of Cornwall that needs to be discussed but its future.

It is the official line that the Duchy of Cornwall is simply a “private estate which funds the … activities of The Prince of Wales”. Yet, recently, the Duke of Cornwall and his Duchy have been much in the news - news which has often been at odds with this claim - news which has damaged the public perception of the Duchy of Cornwall.

Doubts have been cast on the status of the Duchy. If it is a private estate it is a very peculiar private estate.
Questions are being asked. People are querying whether the ‘private estate’ is just a device which allows the Duchy to escape public scrutiny? An issue which Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall has been querying for many years.

The Duchy of Cornwall generated some £18.3 million for the Duke of Cornwall in the year up to 31st March 2012. This equates to £2089 for every hour of every day. If The Duke of Cornwall retired to bed at 11:00pm and were to get up at 9:00am the next morning he would have earned £20,890. By going to bed for the night the Duke ‘earns’ more than the average annual gross full time wage in Cornwall. 

In topical terms, he would be able to provide Mr Iain Duncan Smith with more than seven and a half years of his weekly allowance of £53.00. Not bad for a good night’s sleep!

Given the large sums of money involved, perhaps it’s not surprising that the Duchy wishes to escape public scrutiny?

Still – surely the private estate must generate some benefit for ordinary folk? As a private estate, in these times of austerity, the Duchy and its beneficiary, Prince Charles, are paying tax just like any other private estate or person. They are helping the UK to balance its books and pay down the deficit aren’t they?

Unfortunately, no. 

The Duke does not pay income tax on his income from the Duchy and the Duchy does not pay capital gains tax on the appreciation of its assets. Just like Starbucks, the Duke makes voluntary public relations payments to the exchequer.

But why is this private estate exempt from the rules which apply to less peculiar private estates?

How can a private estate bestow constitutional privileges on the Duke?

How does being the beneficiary of a private estate enable the Duke of Cornwall to veto UK government legislation?

How can this private estate claim your property if you die without any beneficiaries?

How can this private estate have a right to prevent compulsory purchase of its land?

These are just a few examples of the inconsistencies between private estate and constitutional body that have, until recently, successfully been kept secret. Duchy secrets are maintained in some cases by the use of injunctions at the very heart of our democracy.

Yet the house of cards and secrets is slowly, but surely, tumbling down. 

Lord Berkely has called for a radical overhaul of the Duchy of Cornwall. His private members’ Bill has called for the proceeds of the Duchy to go into a new Trust for the people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
I believe that Lord Berkeley is right to propose that the proceeds of the Duchy of Cornwall should go to the people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. 

However, more is needed.

There needs to be consultation with the people of Cornwall. The Duchy of Cornwall is not just about pocket-money for a prince. Why is it that the future of Cornwall is being discussed hundreds of miles away from Cornwall - yet the people of Cornwall have not been asked what they want?

Mebyon Kernow has asked the people of Cornwall. We have 50,000 signatories that have demanded a more equitable and democratic future for Cornwall – 50,000 people whose hopes and aspirations have been ignored by successive Westminster governments.

You are the Minister with special responsibility for constitutional reform. I call on you to initiate a thorough investigation into the status of the Duchy of Cornwall. Put in place an investigation which aims to resolve the irrefutable dichotomy between a private cash-generating estate and constitutional sovereign body. Commission an investigation which can determine how the Duchy of Cornwall can best serve the people of Cornwall rather than the people of Cornwall serving the Duchy.

Cornwall deserves this.

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