A law change to enable the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex to stand in for the King “will give much needed strength and depth to the bench”, a former courtier has told Parliament.
Lord Janvrin, who served as private secretary to the late Queen between 1999 and 2007, made the footballing analogy against the backdrop of the World Cup as peers debated the the Counsellors of State Bill, which is being fast-tracked at Westminster.
The legislative move comes after the King 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.
The Bill will add Anne and Edward to the list, but stops short of removing Andrew and Harry.
However, the House of Lords heard that only “working members” of the royal family would be called upon to act as Counsellors of State.
Speaking at the Bill’s second reading, Lord Janvrin, an independent crossbencher, said: “The present pool of working members of the royal family who are eligible and available to be counsellors of state is for reasons which are well known very small.
“The addition of the Earl of Wessex and the Princess Royal makes very good practical sense.
“If I can, when many minds are on football, it will give much needed strength and depth to the bench.”
The theme was continued by fellow crossbencher and leading lawyer Lord Pannick, who in reference to Harry and Andrew, told the upper chamber: “It is a curious feature of this Bill to retain two people on the team sheet who are not going to play any part in the match, but of course I understand why that is.”
He called on the Government to undertake a review of the existing arrangements to “see whether they are appropriate for the modern world”.
Welcoming the Bill, Labour peer Lord Berkeley said: “It is very necessary to ensure that the machinery of Government continues when the monarch is abroad or indisposed.”
But questioning the position of the Duke of York and Duke of Sussex, he said: “In terms of this Bill, it quite rightly adds two more members, so presumably it can also exclude two members, who I would suggest are no longer working members.”
Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb said: “It just seems ridiculous that we still have this system here.”
She added: “This is so inconsequential to the lives of most people who are struggling to live and work at the moment.”
Labour peer Viscount Stansgate, son of the late left-wing firebrand Tony Benn, said: “This is a necessary Bill and it should pass. It’s also the case that we know why it’s necessary.
“The monarch cannot always be available to perform his or her duties and by long tradition over centuries and enshrined most recently in statute others have been appointed from within the royal household to assist the sovereign.”
But he added: “I think there are many people in this country who would find this current list a curious mixture.”
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Newby said: “The British constitution is an extremely strange animal and this Bill shines a light into one of its darkest corners.
“How many people in the general public know there are such things as Counsellors of State? How many could name them and if they heard who they were how many would think that this was a sensible current arrangement?”
On the Bill, he said: “It gets us out of a hole that at some point it would be a good idea to fill in.”
Labour leader in the Lords Baroness Smith of Basildon said: “I can think of no more appropriate members of the royal household to take on these two positions as extra Counsellors of State.”
The Lord Privy Seal Lord True told peers: “This Bill represents a practical solution and safeguard to ensure that the machinery of Government can continue.”
He stressed: “The royal household have confirmed that in practice working members of the royal family – working members – will be called upon to act as Counsellors of State and that diaries will be arranged to make this practicable.”
The Bill received a second reading and it is planned to complete its remaining stages on Wednesday before heading to the Commons.