Monarchy 'must change to survive'

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The Independent Online

The Queen should be allowed to retire and the Prince of Wales should be able to marry Camilla Parker Bowles without asking permission under proposals today to reform the monarchy.

Her historic position as supreme governor of the Church of England should also go, according to a report published by the influential left–of–centre think tank Fabian Society.

It argued that the monarchy needed to change if it was to maintain public support.

The Future Of The Monarchy, drawn up after a year–long inquiry by an independent 10–member commission, called for two Acts of Parliament to implement its central proposals.

The recommended changes to the monarchy include moves to separate the private lives of the Royal Family from their public duties.

The reigning monarch should be allowed to retire, rather than being required to carry on until death, the report concluded.

The Royal Marriages Act 1772, which forbids members of the Royal Family in line of succession from marrying without the consent of the monarch, should be repealed, under the recommendations put forward.

The report also urged ending the historic ban on non–Anglicans, or anyone who marries a Catholic, succeeding to the throne, and the preference in the succession given to younger brothers over elder sisters.

The report further recommended opening royal land, buildings and art to the public wherever possible and requiring the monarch and the Royal Family to pay tax on their private income and wealth.

The number of members of the Royal Family receiving public funding should also be reduced, it said.

The commission recommended two Acts of Parliament to implement its central proposals – a Succession Act, replacing the Act of Settlement 1701, and a Constitution Act, defining the scope of the powers of the head of state.

David Bean QC, chair of the commission which drew up the report, said: "Britain has been through very significant constitutional change in the last few years.

"The missing piece in the jigsaw is the position of head of state.

"In every other European constitutional monarchy, the role is clearly defined in law, it is depoliticised, and the public and private elements of royalty are kept clearly separate.

"The same principles should now be adopted in Britain.

"The Queen herself called last year for continued evolution. We believe our proposals would command wide public support."

Paul Richards, chair of the Fabian Society and a member of the commission, said: "People will no doubt say that reform of the monarchy is not the most urgent priority for scarce legislative time.

"But the risk of inertia is that the institution gradually comes to appear more and more out of touch with modern Britain and our evolving constitution.

"It would be much better to carry out reform calmly now than to wait until forced by a crisis.

"And we have unfortunately had too many royal crises in recent years."

Other recommendations in the 50,000–word report include:

  • Combining the various current sources of income for the Royal Family – Civil List, grants–in–aid and income from the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall – into a single, transparent and accountable public revenue stream, subject to a vote in Parliament.
  • Transferring the ownership of the Crown Estate and the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, currently held by the sovereign and heir in trust, formally to the nation, and clarifying the ownership of all other royal assets including artworks.
  • Reforming the Royal prerogative powers currently exercised by the Prime Minister and Government, such as the power to go to war without Parliamentary approval, and to appoint senior public figures.

These powers should be put on a statutory basis, with Parliament deciding who should exercise them.

  • Ending the scope for political discretion in the exercise of the sovereign's constitutional powers, such as the power to dissolve and summon Parliament, to give Royal Assent to legislation and to choose the Prime Minister.
  • The head of state should be competent to give evidence in court but no defendant should be able to compel him or her to stand as a witness. Prosecutions should be made in the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions and not the Crown.
  • Having the State Opening of Parliament take place only at the start of a new Parliament, not annually, with the Queen delivering a speech of her own, and the Prime Minister setting out the Government's legislative programme on a separate occasion.
  • Combining the management of Buckingham Palace and St James's Palace in a single office of head of state, under a new chief executive.

The report concluded that it recognised that the Government might regard some of its proposals as "politically difficult".

"The reluctance of ministers to address these issues is understandable, given the extent of popular support for the monarchy and the other demands on legislative time," it said.

"Yet the evidence suggests that public opinion – still firmly behind the institution itself – is open to reform.

"Just as importantly, there are strong indications that the Palaces themselves are willing to countenance reform – as the Queen observed in her address to Parliament in 2002, the historic strength of the monarchy has been its ability to adapt to changed circumstances.

"We believe that the lessons of the turbulent events of recent years – both the successes, such as the Golden Jubilee, and the near–crises, such as the Burrell trial – point in the direction of reform set out by this report."