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23 Jan 2007 : Column 426WH—continued

There have been other changes. Throughout the 18th century, a fee was charged to people who wanted a royal warrant. It was already a sign of distinction, and many tradesmen and purveyors fought hard to get one. However, by 1837, when Queen Victoria started granting royal warrants, no fee was chargeable; indeed, it was determined that it was an important principle that no fee should be charged because there had been corruption in the granting of many royal warrants. Royal warrants were organised by the Lord Chamberlain, who has chaired the royal household’s tradesmen’s warrants committee from that time until
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today. In 1837, royal warrant holders had to swear an oath when they were first provided with their warrant.

The system has changed again in our day. Indeed, there have been significant changes under Her Majesty the Queen, as the system has been modernised. Currently, only three members of the royal household provide new warrants—Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, although, by tradition, royal warrant holders who hold a warrant from Her Majesty the Queen Mother are allowed to retain it until five years after her death, and that period will obviously elapse later this year.

Royal warrants are now held for five years—they used to be held for 10—and can be renewed. They have to be renewed if the individual warrant holder who holds the warrant on behalf of the company leaves the company, dies, becomes bankrupt or is unable to continue holding the warrant for any reason. If the company changes ownership, there has to be a review of the royal warrant.

There is a single meeting of the royal household tradesmen’s warrants committee every year in November at which warrants are reviewed and decided on. The Lord Chamberlain, along with other members of the royal household and representatives of each of the households of the three warrant-granting members of the royal family, constitute the committee and they have established some minimal criteria whereby it is decided whether someone can hold a royal warrant. The first of these is that someone must have provided the good or service in question for at least three years, and that they must still be providing it. For instance, during the second world war, when an important printer in the east end of London was bombed by the Germans and was no longer able to provide the service, another warrant holder, who was also a printer, decided to assist them to maintain their royal warrant by dividing the work that they had in half and allowing them to operate out of another factory.

A person is not allowed to remain a warrant holder if they are bankrupt, but there are not many other distinctions beyond that. I can find only one case of the deliberate removal of a royal warrant from any company in the UK. Mohamed al-Fayed had his royal warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh removed in 2000, perhaps understandably considering the remarks that he had made about the royal family. The other area in which there is a guaranteed, additional criterion is the stipulation by the Prince of Wales that a company that wants his royal warrant must have a strong environmental policy.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I commend the hon. Gentleman on the deft way in which he has secured his debate. More importantly, he has hit on a crucial point. There is talk that Burberry production will be moved to China, so what does that mean in terms of air miles and so forth? What are the conditions under which those people will be working? He knows that there is a great deal of support for his campaign, and I hope that he succeeds at the end of the day.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment. Of course, the question of how a British company manages its environmental policy is
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important if it chooses to outsource to another country and is therefore effectively transporting large amounts of goods and services all around the globe. That is an important point, which I shall come to in relation to Burberry.

The list of present warrant holders is very long. There are 800 companies, which hold about 1,100 warrants, because it is possible to hold warrants from several members of the royal family. The list includes a taxidermist, a button maker and, of course, the providers of the vacuum cleaners. It is interesting to note that the royal family have purveyors of Angostura bitters, Martini and whisky, as well as several glass manufacturers, so they can make a good Manhattan.

Why should Parliament have anything to do with this at all? On the face of it, such decisions are purely for individual members of the royal family. I wholeheartedly support the system of having royal warrants of appointment. However, when someone walks down a street in Japan, where there are 62 Burberry shops, and sees the royal crest above each shop, or sees the crest and the words “By Appointment” on any of the shirts or other products made by a royal warrant holder, they may think of the royal family or the individual member of it in question, but they also think of the Britishness of that good. In a sense, a royal warrant is no longer just a royal warrant. It has been so successful around the world because of the prestige associated with our esteemed royal family and it has become effectively a national seal of approval. That is why it is important for us because it is one of the determining factors of what counts as Britishness in trade around the world.

Legislation exists that shows that Parliament has taken a role in the matter in the past. The Patents, Designs and Trade Marks Act 1883 and the Merchandise Marks Act 1887 both stipulate that it should be illegal for someone to pretend that they have a royal warrant when they do not have one, although the fine is still only £20, which seems rather paltry considering the significant value that a royal warrant provides to anyone who holds it.

It is significant that our current system is seen by many as secretive and self-perpetuating; most recommendations for new warrant holders come only from the Royal Warrant Holders Association, a body of people who already hold royal warrants. It is important that there should be no element of unfair competition and that new people coming into the market should have the opportunity to bear that royal and national seal of approval.

How should Parliament be involved? There should be a joint House of Commons and House of Lords Committee, which could be chaired by the Lord Chamberlain—who is, after all, a member of the House of Lords. There should be an annual report, laying out current holders and how they perform according to different criteria and making suggestions—I accept that they should be no more than suggestions and advice—to the Lord Chamberlain and his Committee. The final decision should be made by the individual member of the royal family.

There should also be new criteria for holding a royal warrant. As I said, the Prince of Wales has a strong environmental policy insistence for everybody who
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holds one of his warrants, and that stipulation should apply to all royal warrant holders. If we believe, as I do, that the environment and climate change are two of the most important issues facing Britain, and if Britain campaigns on them around the world, it must be right to say to those who hold a royal warrant, that national seal of approval, “You must adhere to a strong environmental policy.”

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising this topic, which is of great interest at the moment. During his research, has he made any assessment of the effect of the removal of a royal warrant on an organisation’s business? He mentioned Harrods. Does he know whether that business paid any financial penalty in losing the royal warrant? Has a royal warrant been removed from any other businesses? If so, have they suffered as a consequence?

Chris Bryant: It is remarkably difficult to find any instances of people from whom royal warrants have been removed—some have fallen into abeyance, so it is very difficult to tell. However, organisations clearly value their royal warrants because they make great use of them: they use the crest and the words “By Appointment” followed by the relevant member of the royal family. The warrant is a significant asset to them in particular markets—in China, Japan, the United States of America and parts of the middle east, it is an important element of marketing, although it is not the sum total of it.

Any company wanting to claim that it is a “great British” company should do so not only because it makes great profits—although obviously I am happy to celebrate the financial success of companies, including Burberry—but because it abides by British standards of fair play, one of which is a fair employment policy, which should be another criterion for being added to the list of royal warrants. For instance, a company should be able to guarantee that any goods in its name are not produced on the basis of slave wages or child labour. People would expect that. In fact, many who have outsourced to India and China have found it remarkably difficult to guarantee even that its goods will not be manufactured by children, because they do not set up their own factories there. Most in Britain would adhere to that important principle.

I come specifically to Burberry, which, as hon. Members may know, has two royal warrants—one from Her Majesty the Queen and another from the Prince of Wales. Burberry is an extremely successful company, which in the past few years has made significant improvements each quarter. I praise that economic success and want it to continue. However, it is outsourcing its polo shirt production, at present in Treorchy, to other parts of the world, and unless it can guarantee that it will not be doing so on the basis of slave wages or child labour, it should lose its royal warrant. Specifically, if Burberry chooses to withdraw from Wales, it could be argued strongly that it should lose the royal warrant from the Prince of Wales.

I do not oppose globalisation; it brings many benefits for British business and for some of the poorest parts of the world. I want to see a world in which free trade is successful, which is why I do not
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want to see tariffs created here or in other parts of the world. It is not for the Government to determine how Burberry should run its business, but it is for Parliament to consider how business is done by British companies that carry the national seal of approval—namely, the royal warrant.

12.45 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on securing the debate. We find ourselves in somewhat unusual circumstances, because the nature of such debates is that no Minister has policy responsibility for the matter in question. I know that my hon. Friend has written to the Lord Chancellor, and I understand that he copied the letter to the Lord Chamberlain—he is certainly aware of it. However, he also copied it to the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs as he clearly believes that it, too, has a remit.

Parliament does not scrutinise matters that are within the personal prerogative of the Crown. However, the wider prerogative powers that are exercised by Ministers can and must be scrutinised by Parliament. Ministers are thereby being held to account, as is right and proper. Today, we are talking about something quite different. I do not foresee Committees of the House of Commons seeing it as an immediate priority, although my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda may make representations. Indeed, towards the end of his remarks, he said that he thought that some Departments should have take responsibility for considering employment and other practices. That would, of course, be my former Department, the Department of Trade and Industry, and it would be for the departmental Select Committee to consider such matters.

My hon. Friend knows that Burberry is a significant company. It employs 2,000 people in Britain. He will therefore be aware of the potential consequences of it losing a royal warrant in respect of the factory in south Wales. I understand that that is the firm’s polo shirt factory, from which production is being shifted abroad. The Government always regret the loss of jobs that go abroad, but we remind ourselves that we are a major magnet, attracting incoming jobs to Europe; in particular, Asian companies want their headquarters to be here. My hon. Friend will pleased that Burberry’s headquarters are in London and that the company has about 600 manufacturing jobs elsewhere in Britain, and I know that he will want to think on the consequences of any action taken.

As for the criteria and rules for granting royal warrants, I understand that Earl Peel, the Lord Chamberlain, has stated that they are available. They are the Lord Chamberlain’s rules to be observed by holders of royal warrant of appointment. My hon. Friend may wish to take up those points with him.

Chris Bryant: The Minister said—I am sure that one cannot have a row with a parliamentary Clerk, but this is the row that I had with a parliamentary Clerk the other day—that because the Government do not have a responsibility for the matter, Parliament cannot debate it, but surely Parliament should have a life that is to some degree independent from the life of the
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Government. Parliament should be able to make the determination for itself, and the role of the Leader of the House is to enable Parliament to discuss what it wants to discuss.

Nigel Griffiths: Of course, and that is why we are discussing the issue, but the two points are not contradictory. My hon. Friend is saying that he was advised by the Table Office that an issue could be debated even if there was not parliamentary or Government responsibility for it. That is what I set out in my initial comments: there is no ministerial responsibility for this issue. It might surprise him to know that Ministers are not responsible for absolutely everything in the country, and this is one of those things. A flurry of hands did not go up from fellow Ministers to respond to the debate and to help my hon. Friend, as I hope I am doing, but as a former DTI Minister, I am happy to share with him my views on the welcome investment that there is in Britain. I caution him on giving any unfair impression or using any incautious language, which he avoided doing, in respect of a major firm that employs 2,000 people, because of the loss of particular jobs. However, he and other hon. Members are right to raise with the company their concerns and to seek assurances about the production that it is shifting abroad and what will happen in future.

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is being very generous, but I think that he is slightly missing the point. I have no desire to damage Burberry’s long-term success; I want it to be an enormous success. It has been a success in the past and it recently rescued itself from its
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previous destruction of its own brand. My concern is that if a company that markets itself around the world as a luxury, distinctively British brand withdraws substantially from British production, that will damage the brand for the future. We should all take an interest in that.

Nigel Griffiths: My understanding is that the distinctive Burberry brand, which attaches to its very successful rainwear more than anything else, continues to be manufactured here. The polo shirts, which are manufactured and have been manufactured, I think, for some time in Spain and Italy as well as here, are not perhaps what the public think of as Burberry. However, I am sure that the company will take to heart my hon. Friend’s comments and welcome his sober assessment of the situation and his appreciation of the work that the company does here.

I do not doubt that the attention of the Lord Chamberlain will be drawn to my hon. Friend’s comments, and I know that my hon. Friend will look forward to receiving any response that the Lord Chamberlain chooses to make. I do not believe that he has written to the Lord Chamberlain directly, although I might be wrong about that. If he does, he will be interested, I am sure, to share with other hon. Members the response that he receives to the points that he has raised.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Williams, for allowing me to respond to my hon. Friend’s debate and I thank him again for raising the issue.

12.53 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Gerrards Cross Railway Tunnel

1 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I am most grateful to have secured this debate, which concerns the Gerrards Cross tunnel collapse. I applied for and was granted such a debate rather a long time ago by Mr. Speaker, but unfortunately the debate fell on the day after Sir Edward Heath died. The House adjourned in the morning, following tributes to him, and the debate, which was to take place in the afternoon, was therefore lost.

I rather took the view then that the necessity for the debate might evaporate with the passage of months. I regret to say, however, that the necessity for the debate has not gone at all. Now, at the beginning of 2007, my constituents in Gerrards Cross continue to face a nightmare situation, which has been brought about by the botched attempt to develop a Tesco store above the railway line, in the middle of their community.

It is worth briefly running over the history of the matter. Tesco purchased from British Rail as far back as the early 1990s the air rights to build a store over the railway line at Gerrards Cross where it lies in the cutting. However, Tesco submitted a planning application for the construction of the store only in 1997, the idea being that the railway line would be filled in with a tunnel. Fill would be placed on top, and a store and a car park placed on top of that.

That proposal went down extremely badly with the local community. Press coverage at the time, as well as an in-depth investigation, showed that 93 per cent. of the local community in Gerrards Cross were against the scheme, and they expressed their opposition vociferously. Even Tesco, having initially denied the level of opposition, subsequently had to admit that it was as high as that level.

When Tesco persisted in pursuing the planning application, I attended a public meeting at which, I recollect, the local community raised £14,000 in 20 minutes to pay for representation to resist the scheme. The matter went to a planning inquiry, at which the local community and the district council, which had turned down the application, united to try to persuade the planning inspector and the Deputy Prime Minister to turn the application down. Unfortunately, they were not successful. Even the Minister might agree that it was unfortunate that the application was not turned down in view of the history of what followed.

The application was granted in January 1998. The inspector accepted that the development would cause massive disruption to the centre of the community and a great disturbance for those living near it, and laid down a number of criteria for the manner in which it should take place. It was envisaged that the development, which would require massive amounts of fill material to be brought in by rail only in order to minimise lorry movements, should take place over a seven-month period, and that the clearing up and landscaping thereafter should take a further three months.

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