Public to get a say in royal reform

Palace looks at ways to modernise as polls say Queen is 'out of touch'
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The Independent Online
Buckingham Palace may consult the public over new moves to relax royal protocol, modernise state occasions and give greater access to royal palaces and financial accounts.

And far-reaching changes to the Civil List, which comes up for renewal in three years' time, are likely to win the backing of Prince Charles and Tony Blair, the Prime Minister.

The raft of measures, now under discussion by aides to Prince Charles, the Buckingham Palace household and No 10, are likely to pave the way to broad changes to the monarchy in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. They cannot come too soon, if the evidence of a two new opinion polls on the monarchy, published today, is anything to go by.

The NOP poll for the Sunday Times shows a startling drop in public affection for the House of Windsor after the events of the past two weeks. The Queen is regarded as out of touch by more than seven out of 10 people, with more than half believing she should abdicate. Six out of 10 would like Prince William to succeed her, almost twice the 31 per cent who believe the Prince of Wales should fulfil his destiny as heir to the throne.

Pollsters found that nearly a quarter of people - 23 per cent - believe the Queen should "step down now", while 30 per cent would like her to leave the throne at the age of 75, in 2001. Just 42 per cent want the Queen to reign until the end of her life, and 6 per cent don't know. The poll found 58 per cent of people believe the monarchy "in its present form" will no longer exist in 30 years' time.

The poll by ICM for the Observer shows eight out of 10 people thinking the Royal Family has lost touch with the people, and indicates that Prince William is preferred as next monarch over his father by 53 per cent to 38.

Discussions about a new style of monarchy followed the Queen's public admission that lessons could be learned from the reaction to Diana's death. Prince Charles, who backed previous reform measures, is leading the forces for change. Royal aides, still debating how best to proceed with a review of non-constitutional changes, are considering a consultation process.

One proposal is for the Palace to produce a "green paper" listing possible changes. It would then be open to interested parties, including the public, to respond.

In terms of symbols of the monarchy and the day-to-day running of the palaces, everything is now said to be "up for grabs". Consultation could include issues such as the shape and appearance of state occasions, access to the activities promoted by the Royal Family and how the public is kept informed.

The Government is responsible for constitutional changes to the monarchy, most of which need parliamentary approval. According to a senior source, three issues are on the agenda, with the Civil List the most prominent. Under the present terms, the number of Royals paid for out of the public purse has been cut to three: the Queen, the Queen Mother and the Duke of Edinburgh. New reforms would be likely to harness more money from the royal estates and the Duchy of Lancaster.

Downing Street argues that the pace of reform will be set by the Queen. But two other major reforms are now being canvassed, including alteration of the right of succession to the throne, to give women equal claim with men. The Act which prevents non-Anglicans marrying into the Royal Family is a third potential target.

n The Princess did not suffer when she died in the crash, according to her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, who in an interview with Scotland on Sunday this morning quells speculation that the Princess may have been conscious after the impact. "Believe me, my knowledge comes first hand," she is quoted as saying. "She did not suffer at all."

Special report, pages 18-21