Royal succession rules may be reformed

Buckingham Palace and PM in talks to give women equal rights to throne

Royal daughters could be given an equal claim to the throne and the ban on heirs marrying Roman Catholics may be scrapped under plans discussed by Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

The issue is due to be raised in the House of Commons today during a debate on legislation, introduced by Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, to end the "uniquely discriminatory" rules laid down by the 1701 Act of Settlement. Dr Harris has cross-party support, but is unlikely to win the backing of ministers at this stage. The Government has said changes would be a "complex undertaking".

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown is said to believe that agreement should be reached between Commonwealth countries before he gives the bill his formal support, and he said he would raise the issue at November's Commonwealth Heads of Government conference. Mr Brown was reported to have called the 1701 Act "an anomaly that has no place in the 21st century". There would be no change, however, to the requirement that the monarch be a Protestant.

Dr Harris' Royal Marriages and Succession to the Crown (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill is co-sponsored by Catholic parliamentarians including Tory MP Edward Leigh, Labour's Andrew Mackinlay and John Grogan, and Liberal Democrat John Pugh.

Dr Harris said: "This Bill will remove the uniquely discriminatory rule which currently exists – that an individual in the line of succession to the throne can have a civil partnership with a Catholic, can marry a Muslim or atheist, but cannot marry a Catholic.

"It will also end the outdated rule which allows a woman in the line of succession to the throne to be automatically superseded by a younger male sibling. If our current monarch had a younger brother, we would never have had a Queen Elizabeth II."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The Government has always stood firmly against discrimination in all its forms, including against Roman Catholics, and we will continue to do so.

"To bring about changes to the law on succession would be a complex undertaking involving amendment or repeal of a number of items of related legislation, as well as requiring the consent of legislatures of member nations of the Commonwealth.

"We are examining this complex area although there are no immediate plans to legislate."

The Act of Settlement, laying down that heirs would lose their right to the throne if they married a Catholic or a convert, was passed to ensure that the Catholic Stuart dynasty could not return to the throne following the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Last year Autumn Kelly renounced her Catholic faith in order to marry the Princess Royal's son, Peter Phillips, without damaging his position as 11th in line to the throne.

The Act also put into law the principle of primogeniture – the precedence of male heirs over female. If changes to that practice were made retrospectivly, Princess Anne, currently 10th in line to the throne, would leapfrog her two younger brothers, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex and their children to become fourth in line, behind Prince Harry.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there