David Cameron famously forgot how many homes he owned — and now his stepfather-in-law can’t decide whether he owns a massive country estate on the Scottish island of Jura.
What’s more, the Astor family — whose hereditary peerage still allows Samantha Cameron’s stepfather William Astor to sit in the House of Lords — have their 18,736-acre Tarbert Estate owned via a company registered in a, errrr, Caribbean tax haven. The holidaying Cameron family enjoyed the charms of the island first hand as recently as 2013.
The code of conduct for peers clearly states that land or property holdings must be listed in the Register of Lords’ interests — but Astor only lists a partnership in a tenant of the island, ostensibly concerned with sporting pursuits:
“I contacted the officials responsible for maintaining the Register to check that, in fact Mr Astor had no further interest in the estate. They said that the matter would be investigated. Meanwhile I emailed him directly and he replied that his children, Flora, William and James, owned the beneficial interest in the Bahamas company.
But if his children own the estate (via the Bahamas) why was Lord Astor’s recent Spectator column broadside against mooted SNP land reforms — described as a “Mugabe-style land grab” — bursting with references to his own landowner status?
“Are we estate owners now to be nationalised or made to feel so unwelcome that we have to sell up in a Mugabe-style land grab? It would be a pity, but we are accused of owning too much. Are we really going to have to defend owning so many acres of hill when 500 acres of hill may be only worth the same or even less than one acre of good farmland in the lowlands of Scotland?
He can’t have it both ways. Does he own the estate or not?
Perhaps the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards can help to jog his memory.