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Mr. Speaker: It is not a question of my ruling. The hon. Gentleman should go along to the Table Office to find out whether his questions are accepted. The Officers of the House have wide experience of such matters and will look after hon. Members.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you agree that as the Tory Opposition receive £4 million a year of taxpayers' money, they should be bright enough to table questions without having to beg you to tell them how to do the job they are paid to do? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I sense a general election coming up and I shall not be drawn into these matters.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You heard the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster making a typically cheap gibe at the Opposition when he accused us of not ranging widely when questioning him. Surely, you must accept that that puts the Table Office at odds with the right hon. Gentleman. Who will win?

Mr. Speaker: What I say to the right hon. Gentleman is what I have said before. He should go along to the Table Office and let it worry about the matter.


Prevention of Terrorism (No. 2)

Mr. William Cash presented a Bill about the Prevention of Terrorism: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March 2004, and to be printed [Bill 78].
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Royal Marriages (Freedom of Religion)

12.31 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I beg to move,

You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, of the position under the constitution, which dates back to the Act of Settlement 1701. That position is clear. If a member of the royal family—anyone in line to the succession—took it upon themselves to marry a Roman Catholic, they would automatically be excluded from the line of succession. There is no doubt about that and there is no recourse to ask permission of the monarch or anyone else. They are automatically excluded.

That provision, which is discriminatory and applies only to Roman Catholics is wrong and should be removed from our statute law. There have been numerous attempts to remove it by, for example, my right hon. Friend Lord Forsyth in another place who intends to raise the matter again today, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and many others. I am not sure whether it has happened before, but yesterday, Cardinal O'Brien, the primate of Scotland, made a public statement as a result of my moving this Bill today. He said that the provision is clearly discriminatory and a breach of the human rights of members of the royal family, and that it should be repealed. I look to other members of the hierarchy to come out of the closet, or perhaps the sanctuary, and to move the campaign forward.

Of course, one can ask whether such an act of discrimination is right. The answer is that it is clearly not right for any country to have in its constitution a prohibition that applies to only one religion. The French constitution forbids the wearing of religious dress in school, but that applies to all religions, which is quite different. The British prohibition applies only to Roman Catholics. For instance, Prince William, if he chose, could marry somebody who was Jewish or Muslim, or even an atheist or agnostic. He could even marry a satanist. That would be allowable. After all, the Royal Navy allows satanism, although not—apparently—animal sacrifices aboard ship. Is that acceptable?

Is the provision logical? It is obviously illogical. For instance, Prince William would be barred from the succession if he were to marry a Roman Catholic, but if his bride became a Roman Catholic after the marriage ceremony, he could go on to become the monarch. That is ridiculous. A male member of the royal family, if he were so inclined, could choose to contract a civil partnership with a Roman Catholic man, under recent legislation.

Out of the universe of eligible young women in Europe and around the world, the ban applies only to Roman Catholics. That infringes their human rights. Surely enough damage has been done by legislation telling members of the royal family whom they should marry. It is time to move on, let them fall in love with whoever they please and get on with it like everybody else.

What are the objections to my modest Bill? The Prime Minister has been asked about the issue on numerous occasions. He says—he cannot say anything else—that
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he is against discrimination, but that he has other priorities, the issue is too complicated and the Government have better things to do. But what would happen if a young prince should meet a young Roman Catholic girl? Would we have legislation rushed through Parliament by the necessary date? That would be ridiculous when we could deal with the matter now.

The Bill is very narrow. It is not complicated and it would not require amending or repealing vast quantities of Acts of Parliament. In pursuit of a recent Bill, the Government had to amend 57 Acts, but my Bill would require amending only three or four. The real reason the Government have not done this before is that they think that they would have to amend the Statute of Westminster and obtain the consent of the entire Commonwealth, including Australia. However, I am assured by those who advise me that that would not be necessary. My Bill would not affect the position of the monarch and therefore there would be no need to amend the Statute of Westminster.

The argument that changing would be too difficult or complicated does not add up. I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) in his place on the Front Bench. The Government pride themselves on attacking discrimination wherever it is found, so why do they allow this discrimination to exist in the British constitution of all constitutions?

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): They're so old-fashioned.

Mr. Leigh: My hon. Friend makes his point.

The second objection is, so we are told, that the Catholic Church has a requirement that in mixed marriages—I deplore that phrase—the couple are required to bring up any children as Roman Catholics. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that one is expected to make an effort to try to bring up one's children as Roman Catholics in such cases, but one is not required to do so. Indeed, Prince Michael of Kent, when he married a Roman Catholic in 1978, was automatically barred from the succession, although he has chosen to raise his children as Anglicans. If Prince William or Prince Harry were to marry a Roman Catholic, there is no reason why their children should not be brought up as Anglicans.

Personally speaking, I am happy with the established Church. I am happy that the monarch should be Supreme Governor of the Church of England. I am
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happy that the monarch should be in communion with the Church of England, and nothing in my Bill would affect that. Why then do we continue to have a bar placed on marriage to a Roman Catholic by a member of the royal family?

The time for this Bill, or something like it, has now arrived. My noble Friend Lord Forsyth said, in another place, that the clause was the constitution's "grubby little secret". It perpetuates the values of 16th and 17th century Britain and religious disputes.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Otherwise, it is rather good.

Mr. Leigh: The measure may be rather good otherwise, as my right hon. Friend says, but it is not appropriate. It perpetuates the myth that Catholics are disloyal. I accept that there was a problem with the gunpowder plot, but surely we could be forgiven after 300 or 400 years. The time has come to get rid of this discriminatory legislation.

I was talking to my parish priest last Sunday and he told me that the last of the Catholic Relief Acts was passed as late as 1927. I was not aware of that. Up to that date, Dominicans, Jesuits or Franciscans entering Britain had to register with the Home Office. They had some sort of control order placed on them. It is hard to believe that such measures could exist within living memory.

We got rid of those laws, so why do we retain this "grubby little secret" on our statute book? Like everyone, Catholics have the right to live in a society that is truly non-discriminatory and which values people for what they are.

The time has come to pass this Bill into law, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. William Hague, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. Kevin McNamara, Mr. John Burnett, Dr. Evan Harris, Mr. Francis Maude, Mr. Bernard Jenkin, Jim Dobbin, Mr. Stephen Pound and Mr. John Bercow.

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