7 June 2012

UPDATE See this article of 27 June 2012 by the organisation Republic

The duchy of Cornwall was raised in the House of Lords the other day by Tony Berkeley. Read all his speech so that you get his arguments in context, but from it I these broad points.

He again raised the question of whether the duchy is a private or public body or something in between. He pointed out that the duchy is not democratically accountable and in his view should be. I back democratic accountability everywhere but find it interesting to hear a lament for the lack of it in the duchy from a member of an unelected house.

As examples, he listed some unreasonable privileges of the duchy including exemption from capital gains tax and the right to refuse duchy leaseholders the right to buy their freeholds. I certainly think we should minimally take away the undemocratic aspects of the duchy such as the tax exemption.

That is all familiar stuff but most interestingly, having asked what should be done about the duchy, he radically wondered whether we should “possibly dissolve it” and whether “it may even be best to…abolish the duchy completely,” with its privileges and assets given to the Crown Estate and local councils. This is an approach that strikes me as more worthwhile than others’ rummaging in medieval middens and arguing how many angels can dance on the head of an extraterritorial pin.

I certainly should like to see the orderly radical reform of the duchy, the paliamentary removal of its powers and privileges, modernisation and democratisation, the redistribution of its powers and assets to the people and their representative bodies, with arrangements for a continuation of funds for the heir to the throne. We should strip the duchy of content but could still leave a dukedom as a title, if that is wanted.

Of course, the stripping of the duchy of content could have implications for beliefs about Cornwall as a separate country; not a difficulty for those who, like me, think Cornwall isn’t but for those who think it is.

Berkeley’s speech is in Lords Hansard 15 May 2012 column 367

Groundhog duchy 27 February 2012

Questions, answers 9 December 2011

Medieval middens 8 December 2011

Premature hosannas 17 November 2011

Stannary law defunct 14 July 2011

Duchy of Cornwall is a private estate 13 May 2011

Government: ‘Cornwall is part of England’ 12 January 2011

Duchy of Cornwall 20 November 2010

Crown Estate owns sea and seabed off county of Cornwall 12 October 2010

Stannary law obsolete 21 May 2009

Cornwall today 11 April 2009

Who owns the Cornwall foreshore? 11 February 2009

Cornwall is part of England – and staying put 9 October 2008

Cornwall today 11 April 2007

– and Aristotle’s teeth

See also the Lords Hansard 18 January 2012 column 623 where Berkeley had an amendment that the duchy and Crown Estate should be defined as public bodies; the government response is at column 634. The amendment was not moved.