Why Andrew and Harry could still have been asked to stand in for Queen's Speech
ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship has analysis of what it all means for the future of royal events
It will still be called Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech and when he reads it today for the first time, Prince Charles will still refer to the agenda of "my government". He will, after all, be reading words which are written by Downing Street - as happens at every State Opening of Parliament.
It will be delivered as if Charles is the Sovereign. But he is the Heir to the Throne and the powers of the Sovereign have had to be delegated to him by the Queen.
Those powers were transferred on Monday when the Queen assigned the royal function of the opening of parliament to two of her Counsellors of State. So today, two future Kings - Princes Charles and William - will carry out the formalities on behalf of the current Monarch. It’s fortunate that Charles and William were available as the other Counsellors of State remain Prince Andrew and Prince Harry. Despite both leaving their roles as working royals, the Duke of Sussex and Duke of York keep their roles in which they can stand in for the Queen. It would require a change in the law for them to be removed.
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The Regency Act allows Counsellors of State to act in the Sovereign’s place on a temporary basis if he or she can’t undertake the official duties due to “illness or absence abroad”. The last time such Letters Patent were issued was when the Queen travelled abroad to Malta in 2015. She has not been out of the UK since then - after giving up foreign travel. The Duchess of Cornwall will be at the House of Lords on Tuesday, but she is not a Counsellor of State. That position can only be held by the Sovereign’s spouse and the next four people, over the age of 21, who are in the line of Succession.
That rules out Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis and it is why Harry and Andrew are still Counsellors of State.
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Despite turning 96 last month, the Queen was determined to attend the Houses of Parliament today and only took the decision “reluctantly” to cancel after consulting her doctors on Monday. Her mobility issues have forced her to cancel many engagements in recent months: COP26, Remembrance Sunday, the Commonwealth Day service, the Royal Maundy service. They would have found a way for the Queen to enter the House of Lords chamber by the shortest route possible but there are still steps up to the throne. And the ceremony, including the reading of the Queen’s Speech, would have put a lot of strain on an increasingly frail Monarch. So today the Imperial State Crown, which the Queen’s stopped wearing some time ago, will be placed on a cushion in front of the throne.
The throne will remain empty and Prince Charles will sit in the Chair of State he has used a number of times before.
The chair was built for Prince Albert so he could accompany Queen Victoria to the State Opening of Parliament. In previous years, Prince Charles has used the chair as he accompanied his mother. But this time he will deliver the speech wearing his Admiral of the Fleet uniform. It’s another significant moment in what is now becoming a gradual transition of power from the Queen to the Heir to the Throne. Many people will ask if there should now be a formal Regency, where the Queen remains Sovereign but Prince Charles, as Prince Regent, carries out all her functions. The last time we had one of those was in the early 1800s, when the Prince Regent (latterly George IV) was appointed on account of the mental illness suffered by his father George III. It might look like a Regency today, but these are temporary powers transferred to Princes Charles and William, and the Queen, despite her frailty, can still carry out all the functions as Head of State.