§ The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to inform the House that Buckingham palace is at this moment issuing the following statement. It reads as follows:It is announced from Buckingham Palace that, with regret, the Prince and Princess of Wales have decided to separate. Their Royal Highnesses have no plans to divorce and their constitutional positions are unaffected. This decision has been reached amicably, and they will both continue to participate fully in the upbringing of their children.Their Royal Highnesses will continue to carry out full and separate programmes of public engagements, and will from time to time attend family occasions and national events together.The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, though saddened, understand and sympathise with the difficulties that have led to this decision. Her Majesty and His Royal Highness particularly hope that the intrusions into the privacy of the Prince and Princess may now cease. They believe that a degree of privacy and understanding is essential if Their Royal Highnesses are to provide a happy and secure upbringing for their children, while continuing to give a whole-hearted commitment to their public duties.That is the text of the announcement.
I am sure that I speak for the whole House— and millions beyond it—in offering our support to both the Prince and Princess of Wales. I am also sure that the House will sympathise with the wish that they should both be afforded a degree of privacy.
The House will wish to know that the decision to separate has no constitutional implications. The succession to the throne is unaffected by it; the children of the Prince and Princess retain their position in the line of succession; and there is no reason why the Princess of Wales should not be crowned Queen in due course. The Prince of Wales's succession as head of the Church of England is also unaffected. Neither the Prince nor the Princess is supported by the civil list, and this position will remain unchanged.
I know that there will be great sadness at this news. But I know also that, as they continue with their royal duties and with bringing up their children, the Prince and Princess will have the full support, understanding and affection of the House and of the country.
§ Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East)
May I, first, thank the Prime Minister for making a statement to the House? I am sure that the whole House will share the feeling of sadness that he has expressed at the announcement of the separation and will share the hope that a greater degree of privacy might result for the Prince and Princess of Wales and their children in what would be a difficult time for any family. We associate ourselves entirely with the expression of support for the Prince and Princess of Wales in the carrying out of their public duties.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I wish to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the words of the Prime Minaster and the Leader of the Opposition. These will be difficult times for the royal family, and the whole House will wish to extend to them our sympathy, especially to the Prince and Princess of Wales, and to assure them that whatever decisions they take on these purely personal matters, they can be assured of our continued support in future. I wish to reinforce the comments made by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing the hope that they will indeed be allowed a period of months—or longer if possible—in which they may have a degree of privacy and peace.
846 I thank the Prime Minister for having expressed so clearly the constitutional position and for having expressed what are, I am sure, sentiments that will be felt by all parties in the House. In particular, I should like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Prince and Princess of Wales for their past and continued service to the nation.
§ The Prime Minister
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) have spoken for the country in what they have had to say and that I need comment no further upon their remarks.
§ Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
I think that the House would wish me, as Father of the House, to express the understanding of the whole House of the action which has been taken and which has been so clearly described by the Prime Minister. It must be one of the saddest announcements made by any Prime Minister in modern times. I am sure that the whole House feels exactly the same way about it.
I also support the plea which has already been made for their Royal Highnesses to be granted privacy. May I suggest, in my position, that perhaps we in the House, in the questions we ask and the speeches we make, might give leadership in extending privacy to their Royal Highnesses.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Does the Prime Minister understand that the statement was received by my party with deep regret and great sympathy for the royal family? May I support what the Prime Minister said in requesting a period of quietness for those who find themselves in this unfortunate situation? The last thing that any family needs at such a time is a forest of television or other cameras pointed in its direction. Indeed, if fewer cameras had been pointed in its direction and fewer comments made, perhaps this might not have happened.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
On behalf of my party, I should like to associate myself with what the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of other parties have said. The royal couple, especially their family, need our sympathy and our prayers. I trust that what has been said in the House about press coverage will be heeded and that the family will have a time of quiet and calm to get over this problem.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Does the Prime Minister accept that even a family of great wealth and position has felt the strains which have resulted in divorce—in separation—and in difficulties for the marriage? Is not it true that hundreds of thousands of ordinary people go through similar strains and are afflicted by an equal degree of sadness? Is not it also true that poor housing, low pay and rotten conditions of employment place much greater strains on marriages and that it will be a welcome day when the Government make a statement to the House to relieve those strains, not only those affecting the narrow royal family?
§ The Prime Minister
I think that the whole House will endorse many of the remarks that have been made in the last few minutes by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. To ensure that there is no dispute or misunderstanding, may I make the point beyond any dispute that their Royal 847 Highnesses have separated— both the Prince and the Princess have made it clear that they have no plans to divorce.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Does the Prime Minister realise that probably the most controversial part of what he said was that there would be no constitutional changes? Would not it be fair to say that, as a result of the occurrences in recent months and the pushing of the self-destruct button by the monarchy, we could now be witnessing the end of the monarchy and that the reigning Queen could be the last? That could not be blamed on those of us who believe that there is no need for a monarchy in this land now.
I therefore ask the Prime Minister to bear in mind the fact that the shattering announcement will result in changes in our constitution. It is high time that we stopped this charade of swearing allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors, because we do not know from time to time who they are.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman does not, I believe, speak for the nation, or for any significant part of it. The affection for the monarchy and for members of the royal family in this country is deep, widespread and enduring. We live in a monarchy and, if I may speak personally, I hope and believe that we always will.
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
May I say, Madam Speaker, how greatly I and my right hon. and hon. Friends, and, I am sure, many Opposition Members, resent and reject the remarks by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I would not wish the voice of this House to say anything other than that we are loyal subjects of Her Majesty, and we fully appreciate what she does for this nation, which is immeasurable.