The King’s request to make Princess Anne and Prince Edward counsellors of state who can stand in for him is being rushed through Parliament. Government ministers today introduced legislation in the House of Lords to allow the monarch’s sister and youngest brother to act in his place, undertaking the legal and constitutional duties of the sovereign, if he is abroad or ill.
It comes after ongoing questions were raised over Prince Andrew and Prince Harry still holding the roles despite no longer being working royals.
Peers gave a first reading to the Counsellors of State Bill, only a day after King Charles wrote to Parliament requesting a change in the law.
It will be debated in full by the Lords next Monday and all other stages will be completed on Wednesday next week before going to the Commons and then heading back to the Lords before receiving Royal Assent to make it law.
Proposing the Bill, the Lord Privy Seal Lord True said peers would have “maximum latitude … to make their opinions felt”, including the tabling of amendments.
The King wants to expand the number of members of the Royal Family who can stand in for him before he and Queen Consort Camilla go on their first overseas tour, expected to be in the spring.
His decision is seen as a way of sidelining three non-working members of the family who are currently counsellors of state – his estranged and exiled son the Duke of Sussex, his disgraced brother the Duke of York, and, to a lesser extent, his niece Princess Beatrice, who works for a US-based technology company and does not undertake official duties on behalf of the monarch.
Constitutional experts have said it is much easier legally and more diplomatic to extend the number of counsellors of state than it is to remove people from the list.
Under the 1937 and 1953 Regency Acts, two members of the family from a pool of five are required at any one time to stand in if the monarch is abroad or too ill to work.
The five stipulated are the monarch’s spouse, Camilla, and the first four adults in the line of succession, Prince William, Harry, Andrew and Beatrice.
They could be asked to open or dissolve Parliament, approve the appointment of Government ministers or judges, preside over the Privy Council, meet ambassadors, and sign legislation into law.
The Earl of Wessex and the Princess Royal, who have both previously served as counsellors of state when they were higher up the line of succession, are expected to be appointed to the role for life now.
In the Lords yesterday Labour peer Lord Foulkes questioned whether other members of the Royal Family could be added to the list and what would be the procedure.
Lord True for the Government said amendments could be proposed to the Bill but pointedly urged peers to “take notice” of the King’s wishes.
Fellow Labour peer Lord Berkeley asked: “What is the position of Prince Andrew and Prince Harry, who no longer have the role to do royal duties? Can they be removed or have they been removed or will they be standing in for His Majesty even though they don’t do royal duties?”
Buckingham Palace has steadfastly refused to say definitively if they will ever be asked to perform the role.
Faced with a furore over Harry and Andrew stepping down from their royal roles, the late Queen resisted pressure to change the law in the last couple of years of her reign.
Palace officials argued it was a waste of Parliamentary time as she never travelled abroad any more but it is now understood she drew up plans for the changes now proposed.
In fact, she had to appoint the then Prince Charles and William to stand in for her at the state opening of Parliament earlier this year and if one of them had been abroad, she might have had to have asked Andrew to do it.