Princess Anne and Prince Edward have been tipped by a constitutional expert as the “obvious candidates” to join the existing pool of Counsellors of State. This comes amid reports ministers and senior Palace officials are finalising plans to be put before Parliament to extend the number of people who can step in and carry out some constitutional duties on behalf of the King in case of his absence from the country or illness.
According to the current law, the royal eligible to become a Counsellor of State after Princess Beatrice, who is 9th-in-line to the throne, would be her sister Princess Eugenie, followed by Prince Edward and Princess Anne, respectively 13 and 16th-in-line to the throne.
The fact that constitutional duties may be carried out by Prince Andrew and Prince Harry – who have relinquished their senior roles within the Firm – or Beatrice – who never carried out public duties – have come under increased scrutiny over the past few weeks, with various experts calling for the law to be amended.
Discussing the issue of the Counsellors of State before the publication of the latest reports regarding possible plans being drafted on the matter, constitutional expert Dr Craig Prescott told Express.co.uk: “The existing situation is not ideal. If the King is going to be out of the country for several months, then I believe that this issue need to be considered.
“If a royal is not conducting public duties, then it does not make sense for them to be a Counsellor of State, as it does involve public duties (broadly defined).
“In addition to Harry, Andrew and Beatrice, the Queen Consort is also now a Counsellor of State, but usually she will be travelling with the King, and so would be unable to act.
“Given that under the Regency Act 1937, two Counsellors of State need to act, so Prince William cannot act alone and so other members of the Royal Family could be made Counsellors of State.
“Obvious candidates to add to the pool of Counsellors are Prince Edward and Princess Anne (who as it is conducts investitures).
The proposals, shared by the Daily Mail, would see the number of the current Counsellors growing to include full-time working royals rather than replace non-working members of the Firm who currently hold this position.
The role of Counsellors is regulated by the Regency Act 1937 and Regency Act 1953, and only an act of Parliament can change modify it.
By law, the Counsellors of State include the monarch’s spouse and the next four people in the line of succession who are aged over 21 no matter their status within the Firm – which currently means Queen Camilla, Prince William, Prince Andrew, Prince Harry and Princess Beatrice.
The accession to the throne of King Charles and his intention to undertake foreign tours, something the late Queen stopped doing in late 2015, appears to make the matter even more urgent.
READ MORE: Palace plans to sideline Harry and Andrew from ‘state affairs’
The lecturer in Law at Bangor University went on to note there is a precedent in recent history, saying: “There is a precedent for this, the Regency Act 1953 made Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother a Counsellor of State for the rest of her life (she had lost this when George VI died as she was no longer the wife of the monarch). The same could be done for Princess Anne and Prince Edward.
“This would have the advantage of adding greater flexibility to things and allow Prince William to travel overseas at the same time as the King, as Edward and Anne could act together if necessary.
“However, this ultimately is a matter for Parliament, as only they can pass the necessary legislation.
“Although if this is the wish of the King and the Palace, then I don’t imagine that Parliament would prevent this.”
Dr Prescott’s comment comes after in mid-September, before the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles had been tipped to seek to amend the law on who can act as his representative when he is unavailable.
Moreover, on Monday, the matter of the Counsellors of State reached the House of Lords, with Viscount Stangate asking whether the Government had any plans to amend the Regency Act 1937 given it is “still very relevant”.
He told peers: “Does the Minister not think it time to approach the King to discuss the potential amendment of this Act, and in particular Clause 6, which at the moment defines regents in relation to their line of succession to the Crown?
“Otherwise, are the Government happy to continue with a situation where the counsels of state and regency powers may be exercised by the Duke of York or the Duke of Sussex, one of whom has left public life and the other of whom has left the country? Is it not time for the Government to approach the King to see whether a sensible amendment can be made to this Act?”
Lord True responded saying no private conversations with the King or the Royal Household would be disclosed in the House.
However, after quoting King George VI’s message to Parliament, in which he said there can be a need to “consider contingencies which may hereafter arise, and to make such provision as will, in any event, secure the exercise of the Royal Authority”, he added: “The Government will always consider what arrangements are needed to ensure resilience in our constitutional arrangements, and in the past we have seen that the point of accession has proved a useful opportunity to consider the arrangements in place.”