As Speaker, John Bercow could never be accused of underselling his position. During his tenure the diminutive parliamentarian attracted criticism for everything from his £37,000 portrait and coat of arms to his £45,000 apartment refurbishment to a £1,000 taxi journey. But one free ride Bercow did decline was the official Speaker’s State Coach, a gilded 17th century carriage traditionally used for coronations. The oldest of the three great State coaches – alongside equivalent vehicles for the monarch and Lord Mayor of London – Bercow had it loaned out in 2011 to the National Trust’s Arlington Court Carriage Museum in Devon, saying: ‘Now it no longer has any practical role in parliamentary life it can be passed into the care of the National Trust and viewed by as wide an audience as possible.’
A copy of the contract obtained by Steerpike shows parliamentary authorities placed a value of £1.6 million on the coach, which has had some £11,623 spent on it in conservation and maintenance costs since Michael Martin (reluctantly) relinquished the speakership in 2009. This has included £5,030 on painted panels, £1,507 on textiles and £3,396 on annual inspection costs with costs for installing it at Arlington Court running to a further £4,987. But a decade after the agreement began, no end to the existing arrangement is yet in sight, with current Speaker Lindsay Hoyle only having visited the coach once last August. The current loan was due to expire tomorrow but has now been ‘renewed for two additional years to allow full consideration to be given to the future of the coach’ which could see the move become permanent.
However Mr S understands that not all within the Palace of Westminster are happy to let the carriage go without a fight. The formidable figure of Michael Fabricant is against such a break with tradition, tabling questions in the House and pointing out the carriage used to be admired by the many thousands of annual visitors to Parliament. The blonde bombshell told Mr Steerpike: ‘The Coach is rather splendid and it seems a shame it isn’t on display in the Palace of Westminster which should be its permanent home. It’s rather tucked out of the way at present.’ So is a cross party campaign imminent? It seems unlikely according to Fabbers: ‘Sadly something as esoteric as the Speaker’s Coach is not something on the lips of most other MPs!’
Steerpike suspects that finding a permanent home for the carriage is just one of those issues that will run and run.