Fast-tracked law change to allow Anne and Edward to deputise for King

A law change to enable the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex to stand in for the King is being fast-tracked through Parliament.

The Counsellors of State Bill has been introduced to the House of Lords and received its first reading just a day after the monarch made the formal request.

The draft legislation will be debated in full by peers on Monday, November 21, and it is planned it will clear the upper chamber on Wednesday before heading to the Commons.

Queen Elizabeth II funeral
Anne and Edward will be able to deputise for the King, sidelining the Duke of York and the Duke of Sussex (Peter Byrne/PA)

Proposing the Bill, the Lord Privy Seal Lord True said peers would have “maximum latitude … to make their opinions felt”, including the tabling of amendments.

Earlier, a Labour peer had been blocked from intervening as the House of Lords agreed a response to the King’s request, which assured him the House would “without delay proceed to discuss this important matter and will provide such measures as may be necessary or expedient for the purpose set out by His Majesty”.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock was ignored by the Lord Speaker of Alcluith as he attempted to speak and at least one member from the Government benches shouted across the upper chamber to tell him to “sit down”.

The Labour former minister was later told the so-called humble address was a “debatable matter”.

Lord True said: “I didn’t think the sense of the House was that we wished to have a debate on a matter where a Bill is about to come before the House in an expedited way by agreement in usual channels.”

Audience at Windsor Castle
The King holding an audience with the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, at Windsor Castle on Tuesday (Victoria Jones/PA)

Presenting the draft legislation, Lord True said: “I beg to introduce a Bill to add his Royal Highness the Earl of Wessex and Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal to the persons to whom royal functions may be delegated as Counsellors of State.”

The legislative move comes after Charles requested the change, as he marked his 74th birthday, to “ensure continued efficiency of public business when I am unavailable”.

Counsellors of State, who can deputise for the monarch if he is overseas on an official trip or ill, include the Duke of Sussex, who lives in California after stepping down as a working royal, and the disgraced Duke of York.

Provisions for the counsellors are made under the Regency Acts 1937 to 1953 and those who can currently stand in for Charles include the Queen Consort and the four most senior adults in the line of succession – Prince of Wales, Harry, Andrew and Princess Beatrice.

During the late Queen’s reign, the Counsellors of State dilemma was left unresolved, with sources saying there would be no change in the law despite the scandal surrounding Andrew, and Harry’s permanent departure for the US.

Commonwealth Day 2019
The Sussexes and the Duke of York in 2019 (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

Public debate and pressure to resolve the situation increased when the Queen caught Covid and became increasingly frail.

But the King has moved, just two months after his accession, to address the issue, appearing to underline there is no way back into public life for his brother Andrew, as well as sidelining his son Harry.

The King, however, opted to ask for a less drastic option by seeking to add Anne and Edward rather than removing Andrew and Harry entirely from the list.

Labour peer Viscount Stansgate, son of the late left-wing firebrand Tony Benn, recently questioned the current list of royals able to officiate when the King is not available, given it included Andrew and Harry “one of whom has left public life and the other of whom has left the country”.

Welcoming the latest steps taken by the King, Lord Stansgate sought confirmation the legislation would be “conducted with such equal expeditiousness that the Bill can reach the statute book in good time to be of practical use to the monarch”.

Lord Foulkes questioned whether other members of the royal family could be added to the list of deputies and what would be the procedure.

Lord True said amendments could be proposed to the Bill but pointedly urged peers to “take notice” of the King’s wishes.

Fellow Labour peer Lord Berkeley said: “What is the position of Prince Andrew and Prince Harry, who no longer have the role to do royal duties? Can they be removed or have they been removed or will they be standing in for His Majesty even though they don’t do royal duties?”

Audiences at Windsor Castle
The Counsellors of State issue is being resolved two months after the death of the late Queen (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Opposition chief whip in the Lords Lord Kennedy of Southwark said he had been “very happy” to agree the process for dealing with the Bill.

The changes are being made rapidly before the prospect of the King and Queen Consort going on overseas tours in 2023, which may coincide with the Prince and Princess of Wales also being out of the country.

Counsellors of State are authorised to carry out most of the official duties of the Sovereign like attending Privy Council meetings, signing routine documents and receiving the credentials of new ambassadors to the UK.

Certain core constitutional functions cannot be delegated, like appointing a prime minister or creating peers.

Speaking outside the chamber, Lord Foulkes told the PA news agency: “I am concerned that the Government appear to be pushing this through without allowing proper scrutiny.

“Parliament needs to consider all the implications of the proposal and not just bow the knee to the monarch.”