The House of Lords announcement on the modernisation of the monarchy caused near-apoplexy among some Tory peers after a minister said the Queen would not mind such a change - allowing the eldest child of Prince William, daughter or son, to become monarch.
Replying to a Lords Second Reading debate on the Succession to the Crown Bill - backbench legislation proposed by Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare - the Home Office minister, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said: "There can be no real reason for not giving equal treatment to men and women in this respect."
But Lord Williams said a backbench Bill was not an appropriate vehicle for such a constitutionally important measure and he added: "We will be considering how to carry this through within government and in consultation with the Royal Family."
While Lord Archer and his supporters were clearly delighted by the Labour coup, the official Conservative Opposition appeared out-dated and out- flanked. Only this week, William Hague used a major speech on constitutional reform to defend the hereditary peerage, saying: "Our country's greatness is built on generations of inheritance of this sort. The inheritance of the throne stands as a symbol of it."
Opening the debate, Lord Archer, said: "Queen Elizabeth II is respected and admired from one side of the globe to the other and the idea that her great granddaughter should not be allowed to ascend the throne ahead of a younger brother is not only farcical but insulting to over half the population of this country."
Delivering the prepared government view, Lord Williams said the Queen had been consulted, and he added: "Her Majesty had no objection to the Government's view that, in determining the line of succession of the throne, daughters and sons should be treated in the same way."
But before he could say any more there was a detonation from Tory peer Lord Marlesford, who protested: "I had always understood that in this House it was not normal to make known the views of the Monarch about legislation before the House."
Lord Williams appeared stunned but replied: "This text has been specifically cleared with those to whom reference has been made. And I therefore resent any suggestion that I have done anything improper."
Last night, Lord Marlesford told The Independent: "This is monstrous. The idea that a minister should seek to influence Parliament by conveying the Sovereign's view of legislation being considered by Parliament is an outrage. It is what battles between Parliament and Crown have been fought about for centuries."Reuse content