INTERNATIONAL

Pageantry marred by political row

LONDON NOV. 13. The pomp and ceremony behind the state opening of British Parliament by the Queen today was marred by a political controversy over MPs' demand for an independent inquiry into a series of embarrassing developments involving her family.

Attempts by Left-wing Labour MPs to raise the issue in Parliament are reported to have been blocked by outmoded rules which prevent any criticism of the royal family, and the Leader of the Commons, Robin Cook, is said to be under pressure to intervene.

``Only in Baghdad are you forbidden from mentioning the head of state,'' a Labour MP, Stephen Pound said while commentators questioned the government's claim that rules barred criticism of the monarchy.

Another angry Labour MP was quoted as saying that "until this is discussed we cannot move on'' but the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has defended the Palace over allegations of a "cover-up'' following a string of damaging revelations by the late princess Diana's butler, Paul Burrell.

An internal inquiry announced by the Palace on Tuesday was widely dismissed as an attempt to push "dirt under the carpet'' particularly after it emerged that it would be conducted by a `loyal' courtier, Michael Peat who is Prince Charles's private secretary, and that the Queen would not be asked any questions. Angry Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs called it a "stitch-up''.

They said a man who "works for the Palace, is paid by the Palace and was knighted by the Palace'' could not be expected to be independent. "It is a racing certainty that he will find for the Palace,'' a senior Left-wing Labour MP Dennis Skinner said.

The inquiry follows weeks of sensational disclosures of "sex, lies and intrigue'' , as one newspaper described the alleged goings — on in the Palace. It would look into allegations of a homosexual rape of a member of the royal staff by another, the conduct of a close aide of Prince Charles for allegedly selling royal gifts for profit and the role of the royal family in the Paul Burrell trial which collapsed after a dramatic intervention by the Queen. He was being tried for alleged theft of Princess Diana's personal possessions.

As a besieged Queen drove to Parliament this morning in a ceremonial chariot and curious tourists lined up to watch the `show', even the `royalist' Times could not resist joining the chorus of criticism saying that the royal family's "attempts to halt the tide of lurid allegations'' had "rebounded'' on it.

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