SENIOR Commonwealth officials have held "secret" talks in London about who will succeed the Queen as its head, it has been reported.
A "high level" group met for an all-day summit on Tuesday, and according to insiders were poised to discuss who should replace the monarch after her death.
The meeting's agenda, seen by the BBC, includes consideration of "wider governance", which sources told the broadcaster was code for the succession.
The Queen was proclaimed Head of the Commonwealth at her coronation in 1953, when she was head of state in seven of the organisation's eight members.
But it is not a hereditary position that will pass automatically to the Prince of Wales when the monarch dies. Charles will be head of state in only 15 of the 53 nations and territories that now make up the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Secretariat denied the issue of who would succeed the Queen would be discussed at Tuesday's meeting, chaired by Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati.
But it is expected succession plans will be raised at a summit of Commonwealth heads of government in London in April. The meeting, held every few years, is thought likely to be last attended by the 91-year-old monarch.
Any decision about the future will be made by the Commonwealth heads of government at the time of the Queen's death, but there is no formal process for choosing her successor.
While many Commonwealth figures presume there will be no realistic alternative to Charles, there has in the past been talk of electing a ceremonial leader to improve the organisation's democratic credentials.
A Commonwealth Secretariat spokesman confirmed a "high level group that will that will make recommendations on governance" held its first meeting at Marlborough House, the Commonwealth's London headquarters, on Tuesday.
He added: "At their last summit in Malta, Commonwealth heads of government directed the Secretary-General to form the group. Today members are discussing the scope of the group's work and the areas of governance it will examine over the coming months. The process is open and the High Level Group reports to the heads.
"The issue of succession of the Head of the Commonwealth is not part of the Group's mandate."
But according to documents seen by the BBC, the high level group will just confine itself just to bureaucratic changes. Its remit will reportedly include how the Secretariat is run and funded, how a new Secretary-General is chosen, and the balance of power between governors and the executive committee.
One insider said: "I imagine the question of the succession, however distasteful it may naturally be, will come up."
A second BBC source said a key issue to be decided was whether to appoint Prince Charles in a one-off decision or to implement a system in which the British monarch automatically becomes Commonwealth head.
As well as Mr Tong, the group consists of Lord Howell, former British energy secretary; Louise Frechette, former United Nations Deputy Secretary General; Robert Hill, former Australian defence minister; Dame Billie Miller, former Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados; Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister; and George Vella, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malta.
The spokesman further members may be appointed to the group, which operates independently of the Secretariat.
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