Labour throws Royals out of Lords

Rachel Sylvester
Sunday 29 November 1998 00:02 GMT

THE QUEEN has agreed that members of the Royal Family will lose their historic right to sit and vote in Parliament when the Government reforms the House of Lords.

The Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, and the Dukes of York, Gloucester and Kent will all be thrown out along with other hereditary peers.

Buckingham Palace has informed Tony Blair that the Royal Family, which has been included in the House of Lords since it was set up 900 years ago, will "fall into line" and give up its seats without a fight if the legislation announced in the Queen's Speech last week is passed.

The deal - which follows months of negotiations between the Government and the Palace - shows the lengths to which the Government is prepared to go in its drive to reform the House of Lords.

It will further infuriate Tory hereditary peers and has wide-ranging implications for the future of the monarchy. Until now, it had been assumed that the Royals would be allowed to stay for their lifetimes.

Ministers have advised the Palace that it would seem incongruous for members of the Royal Family to remain in the upper chamber once other hereditary peers have been removed.

Although members of the Royal Family rarely attend or vote in the Lords, their right to sit in Parliament is seen a crucial symbol of the sovereign's constitutional role. The decision to remove them will increase pressure from Labour backbenchers for the monarch to give up the power to dissolve Parliament and preside over the State Opening. It will also call into question whether the Queen should retain responsibility for creating peerages.

However, Baroness Jay, the leader of the Lords, has agreed to make explicit in the White Paper on the future of the Lords that the royal commission to be set up should not recommend changes to the monarchy, in an attempt to reassure the Queen that her role in making laws is secure.

Buckingham Palace confirmed last night that the royal peers would be thrown out with other hereditary peers. "The peers of first creation - the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York would lose their seats," a spokesman said. "There would be no separate arrangements for the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent. They would not be able to remain in the House of Lords ... It has been agreed by all parties. They would go when the reforms were implemented."

Although the Palace said that the Queen and other members of the family were "happy" with the arrangement, courtiers privately expressed concern that the Royal Family had been pressured into giving up their seats. "The Queen would take advice from ministers and will obviously on this particular issue fall into line with the requirements of the Bill," a senior source said.

It is likely that the Queen discussed the matter with the Prime Minister during one of their private meetings. She also consulted her husband and children before agreeing to the deal going ahead.

Downing Street refused to comment on the arrangements for the Royal Family, saying they would be announced when the Bill is published.

Dr Liam Fox, the Tory constitutional spokesman, condemned the plan and said it would increase opposition to the Bill in the Lords. "This has the symbolic effect of reducing the role for the monarchy in Parliament," he said. "There is undoubtedly a very large republican element in the Labour Party which would take comfort from such a step."

The Government will publish a number of options for a reformed upper chamber along with its Bill proposing that hereditary peers lose their voting rights. The preferred option is likely to be a combination of elected and appointed peers.

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