Tom Richmond: Open-door policy at the palace would silence blustering MPs

IT was typical of the pomposity and hypocrisy of some MPs this week when they chose to give the Queen’s staff a kicking over the state of the royal finances.

Their complaint was this – there is a £50m repairs backlog to royal palaces, buildings and monuments because Buckingham Palace staff have been awarding themselves generous pay rises.

The facts. The Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office was given a £7,000 rise to £116,000; the Master of the Household’s £2,000 increase took his salary to £122,000 and the Lord Chamberlain now earns £84,000 – a £2,000 top-up.

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Consider the value that the Royal family provides to the economy each year – they’re worth billions – and then compare these salaries to the £150,000-plus paid to many nonentities in the public sector. I can’t see the £11,000 in question making much difference to the long-overdue repairs to the neglected Mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Windsor. Can you?

It’s the same with the Royal train. Yes, it costs £1m a year to run and is regarded as a relic from the Victorian era, but its use makes it far easier for the Queen – and other senior royals – to travel the country without adding to security bills, or requiring the Royal party to check into a hotel.

Given the success of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, organised superbly by those in receipt of new pay deals, I’d be looking at three ways to secure the future of Royal finances – Lottery funding; revenue from opening up Royal residences to the public for longer each year and a Government grant.

After all, £50m is a tiny sum in comparison to Britain’s EU and overseas aid obligations, but it would be more than recouped if even more people could explore the newly-restored royal residences. But I suppose such pragmatism would deny MPs an easy target...

KEITH Vaz, the Labour MP who heads up Parliament’s influential home affairs select committee, said he was “happy” with border controls when he visited the Calais ferry terminal to meet staff,

He made the observation as his committee interrogated Sir Charles Montgomery, the director general of the UK Border Force, who said staff had been switched from checking freight vehicles so car drivers – and their passengers – could be subjected to passport checks.

I’m curious because this exchange took place on the day an acquaintance told me about his experience at Calais as he drove back from Normandy to North Yorkshire. He observed that the cold, and wet, weather means that customs staff only give passports the most cursory of checks because they’re already shivering in their booths.

Yet, on discussing this with his fellow travellers, they all agreed that they would be prepared to queue if it meant that Britain’s borders were not being penetrated by illegal immigrants and criminals trying to escape detection.

Over to you, Mr Vaz.

ON a related theme, this year’s electoral registration form from Leeds City Council included a help sheet for those who do not comprehend basic English. It read: “If you do not speak English and need help in understanding this document, please telephone the number below and state the name of your language. We will then put you on hold while we contact an interpreter.”

The languages? In alphabetical order: Arabic. Bengali, Cantonese, Farsi, Hindi, Punjabi, Kurdish, Tigrinya, Urdu, Czech, French, Polish, Slovak and Somali.

The surprising omission was Spanish – given the number of young Spaniards fleeing Madrid and Barcelona because their economy is in such dire straits.

Yet what does it say about multi-culturalism, and a political desire nationally for immigrants to speak English, when this council is making it so easy for people from overseas to stick to their mother tongue?

IT is interesting that George Osborne is dragging his feet over whether the Office of Budget Responsibility should price up Labour’s manifesto – the suggestion of Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. Yet former Tory chairman Norman Tebbit has no doubts. After his nemesis Neil Kinnock used Lords questions to mock David Cameron for not knowing the price of bread in an exchange about the pricing policies of supermarkets, the Conservative veteran had some food for thought of his own.

He asked a business minister: “In view of the crisis in the cost of government, would my noble friend consider getting together a group of senior retailers who would be asked to look at manifestos before an election, price up the promises and make sure that we know the unit price of government as proposed between the various parties?”

One for Sir Ken Morrison, I think.

IF SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon is right with her assertion that Scotland is one of the richest countries in the world, why does it need so much subsidising from Westminster – including the diversion of EU funds intended for regeneration schemes in South Yorkshire?

IF you think our MPs are cavalier with their expenses, look at Australia’s fitness-obsessed premier Tony Abbott who is trying, and failing to explain, why he spent £13,500 on trips linked to cricket, cycling and a car race. He said the cost of £768 to compete in an iron man event – a long distance triathlon to you and me – was “official business”.

Let’s hope that this does not catch on here.