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Ministers defend Prince of Wales's fitness for throne

TWO CABINET ministers yesterday joined the growing chorus of support for the Prince of Wales as the rightful heir to the throne with unequivocally lavish praise for his talents and suitability.

In separate Sunday newspaper articles, Lord Wakeham, Leader of the Lords, and William Waldegrave, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, dismissed as idle gossip and baseless speculation suggestions that Prince Charles would not succeed the Queen.

Lord Wakeham said in the Mail on Sunday: 'One day Charles will be king. He will be a fine king. He will follow a wonderful Queen. He will represent Britain at its finest. Make no mistake about it.'

And in a passionate Sunday Telegraph article, Mr Waldegrave said that the unhappiness of the Prince's marriage should be a matter for 'sorrow and sympathy, not for savage exploitation and prurient gossip'. Mr Waldegrave went on to say that Prince Charles had prepared for the throne 'perhaps more conscientiously than any in the long line of his predecessors.'

The articles followed a further endorsement by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, last week on BBC Question Time. Richard Needham, the trade minister, met Prince Charles last week and agreed to establish better co-ordination between the Department of Trade and Industry and the Prince's staff to maximise his use as an exports super-ambassador.

Mr Needham described Prince Charles as a 'priceless national asset who should be on the inside, not on the outside looking in'. A series of - heavily denied - tabloid newspaper reports last week suggesting that the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury would prefer her to be succeeded by her grandson Prince William were given a fresh spin last week when the Archdeacon of York questioned his qualifications for acceding to the throne. His views were instantly and vigorously denounced by Nicholas Soames, the food minister and a close friend of the Prince.

In a poll of 100 members of the General Synod in yesterday's Sunday Times, 47 per cent thought that Prince Charles should not become supreme governor of the Church of England. More than one in four said he should not be king if he has had an affair.

James Fenton, page 14