HL Deb 09 December 1992 vol 541 cc196-8

3.37 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows: "With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to inform the House that Buckingham Palace are 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".

My Lords, that is the text of the announcement.

The Prime Minister's Statement goes on: "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' 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.

"Madam Speaker, 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 the upbringing of their children, the Prince and Princess will have the full support, understanding and affection of this House and of the country."

My Lords, that completes the Statement.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble and learned the Lord Chancellor for having repeated the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister. We are grateful, too, for the noble and learned Lord's statement as to the constitutional position.

The House will have heard the Statement with regret and with sadness, which we on these Benches fully share. However, it is essentially a matter for the two people most directly concerned. One cannot help wondering, however, whether such difficulties as there were between the Prince and the Princess might perhaps have been more capable of resolution had the tabloid press not taken such an excessive interest in their personal affairs.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

And The Sunday Times.

Lord Richard

But these are perhaps matters for another occasion. I am sure the House would wish to be restrained in its comments today.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I join in thanking the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for repeating the Statement. Beyond expressing our sympathy with those involved at the circumstances which have occasioned the Statement and endorsing the plea for privacy in the future, I do not think that any precipitate comment would be helpful or appropriate.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken for their understanding of this position.

3.42 p.m.

The Archbishop of York

My Lords, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury would wish to have been here today; but, as your Lordships know, he is in Sri Lanka. We have consulted together and I wish to speak on behalf of us both. We share the great sorrow which this announcement will cause to Church and nation. We ask the public to join us in praying that God will bring comfort and strength to the Prince and Princess, their children and the wider Royal Family. We urge the public to react with compassion and understanding and not to add unnecessarily to the pain already suffered by those involved. The interests and feelings of Prince Henry and Prince William should be borne constantly in mind. In continuing to perform their unique and stressful public duties despite their personal difficulties, the Prince and Princess will have our strong support, and we believe that of the nation as a whole.

Questions may be raised about the implications of the separation for His Royal Highness's position as future Supreme Governor of the Church of England. From a legal viewpoint, marital status does not affect the succession to the Throne and hence the title of Supreme Governor. The Monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church by virtue of being Sovereign. There is no other legal requirement. Under the Act of Settlement of 1700, the Sovereign must be a communicant member of the Church of England.

Those who hold prominent and symbolic positions in the Church have to meet high expectations. These do not entail the absence of difficult past experiences. Indeed, the Church teaches that, although its members should all strive to follow Christ's perfect example, we can never fully achieve this ideal. All of us are in constant need of God's forgiveness, with its hope of redemption and renewal.

In the case of unsuccessful marriages, the Church of England accepts that there are sometimes circumstances, however sad, where separation is the lesser evil and the best way forward. To undergo such an experience and take such a decision does not in itself in any sense disqualify a person from holding the title of Supreme Governor.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will be grateful to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York for what he has said. As your Lordships know, we are in the habit of starting every Session of this House with prayers which include prayers for the Prince and Princess of Wales and the other members of the Royal Family. I am sure that the most reverend Primate's encouragement will make us even more fervent in these prayers, not only at the opening of business sessions in the House but more generally. I am sure the whole House would also wish particularly to bear in mind what was said about Prince Henry and Prince William and also appreciate fully the reference to grace and forgiveness which I am sure all of us feel we need.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, the Cross-Bench Peers, for very special reasons, will, I am sure, receive this Statement with very great sadness and with great regret.