'People's panel' to advise Queen

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The Independent Online
THE QUEEN is to be advised by a "people's panel" of 1,200 hand- picked members of the public, who will help determine the future of the monarchy.

Senior courtiers at Buckingham Palace have been secretly drawing up plans to establish an advisory committee to gauge reaction to particular events and find out how the public would like the Royals to modernise. The move is part of a wide-ranging programme for public consultation which is being devised by the Palace as part of the Royal Family's drive to become more "in touch" with the nation.

People from all walks of life, from dustmen to doctors, would be chosen at random as a representative sample to give their opinions to the Palace. They would be surveyed at regular intervals and, although their advice would not be binding, it would give the Queen a sense of the public mood.

The Palace is also examining proposals to use focus groups more widely and to set up "citizens' juries", made up of around a dozen people, who would be asked to assess specific information.

Sir Robin Janvrin, the Queen's incoming private secretary, Simon Lewis, her communications secretary, and Mary Francis, assistant private secretary, are the driving forces behind the plan. Mr Lewis recently met Bob Worcester, head of the Palace's opinion pollster, MORI, to discuss the proposals.

Senior sources said that a "people's panel" was expected to be a central plank of the strategy. It would be similar to the 5,000-strong panel set up by Labour when it came to power in 1997. Jack Cunningham, the Cabinet "enforcer", announced last week that MORI had been awarded the contract to run the Government panel.

The Palace initiative is likely to be smaller, with between 1,200 and 1,500 people, selected at random by the pollster. The members would not meet but would be surveyed at regular intervals on specific issues or general themes.

Buckingham Palace could go to the whole panel at any time on any issue - ranging from the constitutional role of the Queen to the relationship between the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles.

It could also select sub-groups, such as young women or black men, and solicit their opinions. Royal advisers believe that consulting the public in this way would be an effective way to generate ideas about the modernisation process. "There is a real determination to find out what people think," one Palace source said.

It would also allow the Palace to track accurately the way in which public opinion changed over time. One insider said the aim was to prevent "panic reactions" to incidents, such as the publication of Penny Junor's biography of the Prince of Wales.

Members of the Royal Family were shocked by opinion polls which found people thought they were out of touch and remote. The Queen made clear following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, that the Royals were determined to change in the run-up to the new millennium.