The Royal Separation: Party leaders united in calling for privacy: John Major told the Commons that the decision had no constitutional implications. Stephen Goodwin reports

JOHN MAJOR told the Commons that it was his personal hope and belief that Britain would remain a monarchy, after his announcement of the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales prompted a claim from one Labour backbencher that the reigning Queen could be the last.

Political party leaders joined in appealing for a period of privacy for the royal couple as press and media attention was held partly to blame for the strains on the marriage.

Dennis Skinner told the Prime Minister that the 'shattering' announcement would result in constitutional changes. 'We could now be witnessing the end of the monarchy,' he said. But Mr Major said that the Labour MP for Bolsover did not speak for the nation or any significant part of it. 'The affection for the monarch and members of the Royal Family in this country is deep, is widespread and is enduring. We live in a monarchy, and if I may speak personally, I hope and believe we always will.'

Mr Major, after repeating the Buckingham Palace statement, had told MPs: 'I am sure that I speak for the whole House - and millions beyond it - in offering our support to both the Prince and Princess of Wales. I am also sure that the House will sympathise with the wish that they should both be afforded a degree of privacy.

'The House will wish to know that the decision to separate has no constitutional implications. The succession to the throne is unaffected by it. The children of the Prince and Princess retain their position in the line of succession and there is no reason why the Princess of Wales should not be crowned Queen in due course. The Prince of Wales's succession as head of the Church of England is also unaffected. Neither the Prince nor the Princess is supported by the Civil List and this position will remain unchanged.

'I know that there will be great sadness at this news. But I know also that, as they continue with their royal duties and with bringing up their children, the Prince and Princess will have the full support, understanding and affection of this House and the country.'

John Smith, the Labour leader, said: 'I am sure the whole House will share the feeling of sadness which the Prime Minister has expressed at the announcement of the separation and will also share the hope that a greater degree of privacy might result for the Prince and Princess of Wales and their children in what would be a difficult time for any family. We associate ourselves entirely with the expression of support for the Prince and Princess in the carrying out of their public duties.' Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, associated his party with the remarks of the Prime Minister and Mr Smith. He hoped the Prince and Princess would be allowed a degree of privacy and peace and thanked the couple for their service to the nation.

'These are going to be difficult times for the Royal Family and the House would wish to extend our sympathy to them and in particular to the Prince and Princess of Wales and to assure them that whatever decisions they took on these purely personal matters they can be assured of our continued support in the future,' Mr Ashdown said.

Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister and Father of the House, said it must be one of the saddest announcements made by any prime minister in modern times. 'Perhaps we in this House in the questions we put and in the speeches we make might give leadership in extending privacy to their royal highnesses.'

Expressing the great sympathy and regret of the Ulster Unionists, William Ross, MP for Londonderry East, said: 'The last thing any family needs at such a time is a forest of TV cameras and other cameras pointed in their direction. Indeed, the less cameras had been pointed in their direction and less comment had been made, perhaps this might not have happened.'

Bob Cryer, Labour MP for Bradford South, said many ordinary people went through similar strains and with the same sadness. 'It is also true that poor housing, low pay, rotten conditions of employment place on such marriages a far and away greater strain, and it would be a welcome day when the Government brought a statement to this House to relieve those strains and not just (for) this narrow Royal Family.'

Mr Skinner said that probably the most controversial part of Mr Major's statement was his assertion that there would be no constitutional changes. 'It would be fair to say . . . as a result of the occurrences over the course of the last several months and the pushing of the self-destruct button by the monarchy that we could now be witnessing the end of the monarchy and the reigning Queen could possibly be the last.' To Tory protests, Mr Skinner said: 'It would not be something that could be blamed upon people like those of us that believe there is no need for a monarchy in this land now. It is high time that we stopped this charade of swearing allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors because we don't know from time to time who they are.'

Dame Jill Knight, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, said Conservative MPs and, she was sure, many Labour MPs, resented and rejected Mr Skinner's remarks. 'I would not wish the voice of this House to say other than we are loyal subjects of Her Majesty and we fully appreciate what she does for this nation, which is immeasurable.'

After the statement was repeated in the Lords, Lord Richard, leader of the Labour peers, said: 'One cannot help wondering whether such difficulties as there were between the Prince and the Princess might perhaps have been more capable of resolution had the tabloid press not taken such an excessive interest in their personal affairs.'

Prince's Guildhall speech, page 10

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