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Palace: Counsellors of State not required while King is in hospital

The prospect of the King being treated in hospital and the Prince of Wales halting his official duties to care for his wife raises questions over which Counsellors of State might be needed to step in.

In the event a monarch cannot undertake their duties as sovereign on a temporary basis due to illness, two or more Counsellors of State are appointed by Letters Patent to act in their place.

King Charles III coronation
The Prince of Wales will be with his wife for the next weeks (Leon Neal/PA)

Usually the duty would fall to William in the first instance.

But the prince will be at the Princess of Wales’s bedside for the next few weeks, juggling this with caring for his children as Kate recovers from abdominal surgery.

Buckingham Palace has said, however, that it did not anticipate Counsellors of State being necessary when the King is treated in hospital for an enlarged, benign prostate next week.

The Princess Royal to visit Sri Lanka
The Princess Royal was added to the list of Counsellors of State last year (Jacob King/PA)

Provisions for the counsellors are made under the Regency Acts 1937 to 1953 and those who can currently stand in for Charles include Queen Camilla, and the four most senior adults in the line of succession over the age of 21, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke of York and Princess Beatrice.

But in 2022, the King asked Parliament to add his youngest brother the Duke of Edinburgh and sister the Princess Royal as extra Counsellors of State so they can deputise for him if need be, and the addition was fast-tracked into law.

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 and criticism of the royal family.

Platinum Jubilee
Pressure to solve the Counsellors of State dilemma increased during Elizabeth II’s later years (Joe Giddens/PA)

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

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

But they cannot dissolve Parliament, except on a monarch’s express instruction, or create peers or appoint a prime minister.

The King’s slimmed down monarchy only has four working royals under the age of 65, the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.

And with William and Kate out of action, extra duties could be expected to fall to Edward and Sophie.

Other working royals include Anne, known for her no-nonsense hard-working approach, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, but the latter two have appeared increasingly frail in recent times.