IN the discreet way that these things are done, there seem to have been nods and winks to the media from Buckingham Palace implying that with the approach of Queen Elizabeth's 80th birthday her future diary of engagements is likely to be slimmed down and Prince Charles given increased responsibilities. Last year the Queen carried out almost 400 official engagements and the Duke of Edinburgh, who will be 85 in June, attended about 350. In the spring of this year the Queen and Prince Philip will pay an official visit to Australia, a testing assignment given the strength of republicanism in Australia, and one that may prove to be the last major overseas duty for the Queen and her consort. No one will begrudge the Queen the opportunity to take life a little more easily both at home and abroad. In many ways she has been a model monarch and has retained the respect and affection of her people even though she has not always had the support from her children to which she was entitled. If she reduces her workload it will give Prince Charles the opportunity to undertake more formal duties such as investitures and the welcoming new ambassadors to the Court of St James. It will also enable him to become more fully involved in the low-key but important constitutional functions which the monarch performs, such as reading official papers and holding a weekly meeting with the prime minister of the day. Prince Charles has never lacked interest in the affairs of state, nor has he been short of ideas to be put to ministers; however, until now, he has he not had a recognised framework within which to operate and for that reason his interventions have not always been welcome. It is unlikely, however, that the Queen will want, or feel able, to relinquish her role in the great Royal events such as Trooping the Colour and the State Opening of Parliament. Whether there will be a formal announcement of these changes is not clear; they may simply take place almost imperceptibly from month to month. Queen Elizabeth's 80th birthday is on April 21 and her official birthday on June 17.


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