Who will be king? Let the people decide

Ruling Britannia: Demos report proposes radical changes for a monarchy fascinated by New Labour, writes Rachel Sylvester
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THERE must be "dramatic" changes to the way the Royal Family acts and the powers it has if the monarchy is to maintain widespread public support, according to a report by the influential think-tank, Demos.

It proposes sweeping reform of the constitutional and religious roles of the sovereign. It also advocates the abolition of the automatic right of the Prince of Wales to succeed to the throne.

These changes should be introduced either through a new written constitution or a Monarchy Act putting the King's or Queen's job on to the statute book, the report says. They would also complement reform of the House of Lords, where the Government plans to remove the voting rights of hereditary peers.

Succession to the throne

THE report argues that, when a monarch dies, the public should be given the opportunity to approve or reject the new King or Queen. There should be an "affirmative referendum" on the fitness of the heir to rule and, if he or she is rejected, the Crown should pass to the next in line to the throne.

This means that, if the Queen died, all British citizens would be able to vote on whether they wanted Prince Charles or Prince William to become King.

If the public also rejected the second in line, then Parliament should hold a referendum to find out whether or not people still supported the principle of the monarchy or would like to see the establishment of a republic.

"It is important, in a democracy, that the monarch should be able to prove that they command the support of the people and that the succession depends on popular approval rather than constitutional norms or parliamentary permission," the report says.

Political power

DEMOS advocates that the Queen should be stripped of her political power. The Speaker of the House of Commons would be responsible for the appointment of the Prime Minister and the formal dissolution of Parliament. The Royal Assent for Bills would be abolished and replaced by an "act of certification" signed by the Speaker and the presiding officer of a reformed second chamber, certifying that the legislation had gone through all its stages. This would mean the end of the pomp and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament. The Privy Council, made up of senior politicians, would be abolished and its existing activities carried out by Cabinet committees. Peerages and honours would be awarded by an independent commission, rather than by monarch or government.

"The elimination of the Crown in Parliament would enhance the transparency of political life and further anchor popular sovereignty as the cornerstone of the British constitution," the report argues.

Funding

THE Civil List should be abolished and the Royal Family should receive a single government grant, allocated in the same way as other public spending. The monarch's private income should be taxed in the same way as anybody else's. Most of the 100 royal properties should be sold off or given to the National Trust. Parliament should be made responsible for monitoring spending through a new Commons select committee.

The Royal Household of courtiers should be abolished and replaced with career civil servants working in a new "office of the monarchy." The monarch would also be advised by an advisory council made up of ordinary members of the public. None of these people would get any of the perks, such as titles or subsidised accommodation, enjoyed by the Royal Household.

These changes would improve the public standing of the Royal Family as "the way the monarchy is organised and funded has had a negative impact on how it is seen", the report claims.

Disestablishment

THE link between the Church of England and the State should be broken and the monarch's role as Supreme Governor of the Church relinquished. This would involve repealing the Act of Supremacy of 1559, and changing the law to allow the King or Queen to belong to any religion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury would no longer be involved in coronations or other State functions. The report argues that this would be in keeping with Prince Charles's statement that he wants to be a "defender of faith". It says that there is no established Church in Northern Ireland or Wales and that the Church of Scotland is functionally independent of the State.

"This is a predominantly secular country," the report says. "The minority of British citizens who do attend acts of worship represent a diverse range of religions."

The people's monarchy

THE Royal Family should educate their children at state schools and use NHS hospitals in order to "demonstrate their commitment to national life" and keep them in touch with "reality", Demos says. Its members should also buy contemporary art in order to boost the "Cool Britannia" creative industries rather than simply relying on the traditional art collection.

The Royals should make a special commitment to education, similar to Queen Victoria's decision to ally the monarchy with the Empire in the 19th century, when she became Empress of India. There should be a programme of school visits, focusing particularly on under-achieving institutions, and special Royal awards for educational innovation.

The Royal Family should also review its charitable work and target "unfashionable" organisations, just as Diana, Princess of Wales gave her patronage to Aids victims and lepers.

More emphasis should be placed on "international reconciliation" and the monarch should be designated an "ambassador at large". In particular, the special relationship between the monarchy and the Commonwealth should be used to enhance international co-operation.

The report concludes that the monarchy should act as "a focus for a sense of national unity that permeates much of society". Polls even suggest that a large majority of British people claims to have dreamt of taking tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. "In many ways this symbolic function, providing material for a national dream of unity and continuity, is the core role of the monarchy."

The authors write: "Once the monarchy has freed itself from its onerous and anachronistic religious and political roles it will have the space and time to develop this symbolic side effectively."

Time to change, page 25

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