Bill before House of Lords threatens Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall

Special rights, including tax exemptions and immunity from planning, under threat in a radical bill to be put before the House of Lords

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 8:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 9:19pm


Prince Charles faces a Westminster campaign to strip him and his estate of special privileges including tax exemptions, a power of veto over new laws and immunity from legislation covering everything from squatting to planning.

A radical bill is to be put before the House of Lords proposing to remove special treatment of the prince and the Duchy of Cornwall, his inherited £800 million (HK$10.3 billion) estate that provides him with a £19 million-a-year private income.

The move, by the old-Etonian Labour peer Lord Berkeley, also exposes little-known exemptions from laws enforced on everyone else by at least eight acts of parliament.

In his capacity as the Duke of Cornwall, the prince cannot be prosecuted for breaches of planning laws such as building without permission or breaking the terms of planning consents, which would normally attract fines of up to £50,000.

His estate also enjoys an exemption from people registering land under squatters' rights or other forms of "adverse possession" until they have occupied it for 60 years, compared with 10 years for other landowners. Neither is it obliged to allow duchy leaseholders to buy their freeholds.

"It is time for parliament to consider the increasingly urgent matter of the Prince of Wales' status and to modernise this medieval situation," Berkeley said. "The government and duchy both say the duchy is in the private sector yet it pays voluntary tax, gets free advice from government lawyers and has exemptions from legislation that applies to other private-sector bodies."

Berkeley's bill would strip the prince of his power of veto over new legislation that might affect his private interests. Since 2005, ministers from at least six departments have sought his consent to draft bills on everything from road safety to gambling and the London Olympics. It has been described by constitutional lawyers as a royal "nuclear deterrent" over public policy.

Berkeley also wants parliament to remove the prince's right to claim legacies from ordinary people who die intestate in Cornwall. This right provided more than £450,000 in 2012 and latest accounts show he is sitting on £3.3 million in cash from many years of collecting Cornish legacies.

A spokeswoman for the prince said: "We do not comment on parliamentary procedure."

His representatives have previously argued that intestate legacy money was used for charitable donations.

Berkeley's bill is unlikely ever to become law, but it is intended to add to the debate about some of the more controversial aspects of the prince's status under the law and in general business dealings.

It proposes that he should pay income tax on his vast earnings in the normal way, rather than under the voluntary arrangement, and that his estate should pay capital gains tax, which it does not do.