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Great Britain: Fabian Society has released a pamphlet suggesting the monarchy should be overhauled to ensure its survival, and become a purely ceremonial institution

REBECCA GORMAN: Britain's Labour Leader, Tony Blair, has moved to distance himself from a plan to drastically overhaul the monarchy proposed by members of his own party in the Fabian Society.

The proposals would see the monarchy relinquish all its remaining political powers becoming instead a purely ceremonial institution. John Major's Conservative Government says the debate proves that Labour has a republican agenda.

Mark Tamhane reports on a plan which would even see the replacement of God save the Queen.

REPORTER:Britain's national anthem is something of an embarrassment in a modern age, not least because of the dirge-like tune which stirs none of the emotion of, for example, the Marseillaise.

MARK TAMHANE: Entitled 'Long to reign over us' - the Fabian Society pamphlet suggests a sweeping overhaul of the monarchy.

REPORTER: For the British monarchy to survive the rising tide of hostility the Crown must be reinvented as a ceremonial figurehead, with many of the Crown's powers passed to Parliament. The political role of the monarch should be completely removed with many functions passing to the Speaker of the House.

MARK TAMHANE: It also suggests a referendum on the monarchy every ten years, a review of the monarch's role as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, reform of the honour system, and suggests that Britain should adopt a written constitution. The pamphlet's author is Paul Richards, a Labour Party candidate and a member of the Fabian Society Executive. Despite the tone of his document, Richards insists he is a monarchist.

PAUL RICHARDS: I think the first point is to say that the monarchy is safe under Labour, and I personally do support the monarchy and I desperately want to see them succeed into the future. But without change, in my view, that survival is under question. You see a slipping away of popular support and sniping from the tabloids which has led people to question the future of our monarchy. So the pamphlet is a think-tank pamphlet flagging up some new ideas about ways of bringing the monarchy closer to the people.

MARK TAMHANE: The Fabian Society has always been a forum for liberal thought in Britain - George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells were early members. The organisation's current patron is Labour Leader, Tony Blair, although at the moment he probably wishes he wasn't. Since his election to the leadership Mr Blair has sought to dispel suspicions that Labour are a party of closet Roundheads. He has said he wants to reform the House of Lords and devolve more power to the regions, but the Fabian Society pamphlet has been seized on by the Tories as evidence that new Labour has a more sinister agenda for constitutional change. Defense Secretary, Michael Portillo.

MICHAEL PORTILLO: These are, I think, damaging proposals. The monarchy is at the very heart of our democracy and our democratic rights, and the Labour Party seems just content to play games with our constitution without any serious thought as to the implications or, indeed, what they would put in its place.

MARK TAMHANE: Labour was quick to respond. Party spokesman, Frank Dobson.

FRANK DOBSON: Tony Blair has consistently expressed his great admiration for the job that the Queen does on behalf of us all. There's no prospect whatever of a Labour Government seeking to alter the political role or status of the Queen in any way.

MARK TAMHANE: The Fabian Society pamphlet also makes suggestions to reform the Commonwealth. The large group of ex-colonial nations, including Australia, which is presided over by the Queen.

REPORTER: It seems likely that referenda in Australia, New Zealand and Canada will sooner or later end the British monarch's role as head of state and the powers of unelected Governor-Generals. There is no reason for the British monarch to be head of the Commonwealth in perpetuity. The post of the head of the Commonwealth should be opened up to heads of state from each of the Commonwealth countries.

MARK TAMHANE: Paul Richards says his proposals are merely steps to ensure the continuation of the monarchy, but he admits the issue he is raising is Labour's last taboo. It seems that in the run-up to a general election in Britain, Tony Blair is going to make sure that it stays that way.

This is Mark Tamhane is London for A.M.