London: For the first time ever, Queen Elizabeth II is likely to face a robust inquiry into her finances and expenses by British MPs due to a recent change in law. Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is expected to launch an investigation into whether the monarch and the royal family provide value for money to the taxpayer, according to media reports in London.
The inquiry, which will look at every aspect of the Queen's expenditure, including the cost of transport, may be a cause for concern in Buckingham Palace because of the PAC's reputation for grilling civil servants over the use of public funds.
The question of whether Britain's monarch and her household are a drain on the taxpayers has long been a topic of debate, with anti-royalists arguing in favour of curbing royal expenses.
The amount of public funds going to the royal family soared last year, despite government cuts. The PAC, chaired by the former Labour minister Margaret Hodge, will decide on the scope of any inquiry after the National Audit Office is granted access to the Queen's finances next month, according to a report in The Independent.
Auditors will produce a report on their findings which will then be scrutinised by the committee who will decide whether to call palace officials to give evidence. PAC sources indicated that this was likely to happen. "I'm all in favour of it," said Austin Mitchell, a Labour MP who sits on the committee.
"It's not intrusive. It is about ensuring that the public are getting good value for money. At the moment there is no accountability for spending what is a considerable fortune". Among the areas the committee is expected to examine are transport costs, including the royal train and the royal flight, as well as money spent on official entertaining and the upkeep of palaces.
Money given to junior royals to support their work backing up the Queen will also be scrutinised while the committee may also want to examine whether Buckingham Palace is doing enough to raise money itself by selling the royal brand.
For example, while Buckingham Palace now opens to paying visitors during the summer, some have argued it should be open all the year round. Two of the Queen's other castles, Balmoral and Sandringham, have no public access at all despite their multi-million pound maintenance costs.
The change in law came about after the UK Chancellor, George Osborne, scrapped the Civil List an annual handout to the royal family that has had to be approved by Parliament since 1760 in favour of paying the Monarch 15 per cent of the income from the Crown Estates as a new 'Sovereign Grant'.
Crown Estate assets include Regent Street in central London, Ascot racecourse and Windsor Great Park, 265,000 acres of farmland, as well as ownership of our national seabed stretching out 12 nautical miles around Britain.
The Estate's profits have been paid to the Treasury and taxpayers since 1760, after George III handed the Crown's property to the state in return for an annual fee to support his duties.
In April this year, Buckingham Palace will receive 36.1 million pounds (about USD 57 million) to fund the Queen's official duties, a 16 per cent increase on the 31 million pounds paid by taxpayers last year.