'The Firm' contemplates the ultimate privatisation

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The Independent Online
The Queen is preparing radical proposals for a shake-up of the Royal Family which would distance the monarchy from the Church of England, give women equal rights of succession and end state support for the Windsors.

Buckingham Palace yesterday confirmed that senior members of the Royal Family and their advisers were involved in talks about their future, believed to include the return of incomes surrendered to Parliament in the 18th century.

Details of the proposals, leaked to the Sun newspaper, include plans to restrict membership of the Royal Family to the monarch, the consort, their children and grandchildren who are direct heirs. They also provide for the ending of the monarch's role as head of the Church of England and would allow kings and queens to marry Catholics, a move warmly welcomed by the Roman Cath-olic Church last night.

The plans, which would require several Acts of Parliament if approved, would end the tradition of sisters being overlooked for the throne and re- placed by younger brothers under the rules of primogeniture.

Arguably the most potentially controversial proposal would involve the Queen giving up her pounds 7.9m a year Civil List payment in return for income derived from the extensive Crown Estates surrendered by King George III in 1760. The Crown Estates portfolio brought in pounds 94.6m for the Treasury last year, but was almost offset by the pounds 80m-plus cost of financing the royals, their staffs and the royal palaces.

Although the proposals are understood to be in their infancy, one royal source said the sums added up to the suggestion that the Royal Family wanted to stand on its own feet "lock, stock and barrel".

Dr David Starkey, lecturer in history at the London School of Economics, said: "The idea of shifting from the Civil List - which is subject to parliamentary votes and a form of parliamentary audit - to depending on the Crown Estates really amounts to the privatisation of the monarchy."

The political parties, anxious not to provide ammunition to their opponents before the election, were muted yesterday, apart from Labour's consitutional affairs spokesman, Doug Henderson, who said he understood the discussions were "routine".

According to the Sun, the Queen's think-tank is called the Way Forward Group and it has been meeting every six months to discuss the future of the Royal Family. Its members include the Queen, Prince Philip, the Prince of Wales, Princes Edward and Andrew and the Princess Royal. Also present are: Sir Robert Fellowes, the Queen's private secretary; his deputy, Robin Janvrin; Prince Charles's private secretary, Sir Richard Aylard; and Michael Peat, Keeper of the Privy Purse.

A palace spokeswoman confirmed that talks about the future had been under way "like in any organisation".