Does Queen Elizabeth really need to live in palace digs with 52 bedrooms?
Should she vacate Buckingham Palace, pack up her throne and the rest of the royal furniture from the grand site in central London, and reign from a modern, hi-tech building?
Bizarre though they may sound, these questions are being hotly debated in the wake of remarks by a senior government minister who wants the queen's famous London home turned over to the people for use as a museum.
Mo Mowlam, former Northern Ireland secretary and currently Cabinet Office minister in Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, set a republican cat among Britain's royalist pigeons by proposing the idea Tuesday.
"I am no great fan of the monarchy," Ms. Mowlam told Saga magazine that Buckingham Palace was simply inappropriate for a modern sovereign.
"If people want a monarch of the new century," she quipped, "they should have a palace of the new century, in line with the architecture you see around London." Buckingham Palace - and its 188 staff apartments - she says, could be put to better use.
Her comments have brought fire and brimstone down on her. A clearly enraged Elizabeth instructed a senior palace source to publicly rebuke one of her own ministers.
Mr. Blair also moved swiftly to disown the proposal. His spokesman said: "The queen lives in Buckingham Palace; I don't think she's intending to move, and the prime minister doesn't think she should."
However, although vacating Buckingham Palace is not on the royal agenda, at least for now, the queen's accommodation and the royal family's lifestyle are issues that are unlikely to go away.
No monarch in the world has as many palaces as the British queen. Apart from Buckingham Palace, she has four other royal residences at her disposal:
*Windsor Castle, 15 miles west of London, with 1,000 rooms and 225 servants.
*Sandringham, a country house in the north of England on 20,000 acres, with a staff of 140.
*Balmoral Castle, Scotland, set in 62,000 acres of farmlands and forest.
*Holyrood House, a small palace in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In London, there are three other residences used by the royal family: St. James's Palace, headquarters of Prince Charles; nearby Clarence House, home of Elizabeth's mother; and Kensington Palace, once the home of Diana, Princess of Wales.
The annual cost of maintaining the royal palaces is more than $24 million, paid for with public money.
In recent years the queen has agreed to pay income taxes and to decommission the oceangoing royal yacht Britannia. The luxurious royal train, which costs more than $75,000 every time it pulls out of the station, is also likely to be abandoned soon.
When a fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle in 1992, public opinion on the royal residences was particularly vocal. Suggestions that the public should pay for the restoration met with widespread hostility.
To pay the repair bill, the queen was forced to open one of her homes to tourists. Yes, you've guessed right: it was Buckingham Palace.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society