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In his speech on his ten-minute Bill, he mentioned that Cardinal O’Brien, the Primate of Scotland, had made a public statement as a result of the Bill being brought forward. He quoted the Cardinal as saying that the provision was

The hon. Gentleman also pointed out that

The hon. Gentleman went on to say, “That is ridiculous”— [Interruption.]—a statement that is echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (David Howarth), and for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), on the Front Bench.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gainsborough for his liberal outlook; I was fascinated to see that he went on to say:

and would not be disqualified. We are talking about an antediluvian measure, and the hon. Gentleman put the matter very well.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I deal with another point from his speech, as he put the argument so clearly. He pointed out that people allege that in the Catholic Church, a couple in what is called a
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mixed marriage—that is not his phrase—are required to bring up any children as Roman Catholics. He says that that is not the case in any event. I hope that I will get the chance to explain the historical example that he went on to provide.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal said how strongly he felt when introducing his private Member’s Bill, the Catholics (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill:

I spoke to the right hon. Gentleman before today’s debate, and his view has not changed. He put his point very well. I think it is appropriate, given that I am not a Roman Catholic, to read those testaments, and so to allow Roman Catholics to say how insulting they find the provision. Kevin McNamara—

Stephen Pound rose—

Dr. Harris: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will get in my quote from Kevin McNamara, who pre-empted me on the issue. He said, in debate on his ten-minute Bill, the Treason Felony, Act of Settlement and Parliamentary Oath Bill:

He pointed out that Members of the Scottish Parliament unanimously adopted a motion expressing their wish that the discriminatory aspects of the Act be repealed. However, the matter is reserved to the United Kingdom, and to the UK Parliament, as Kevin McNamara pointed out, so it is up to us to address the issue.

Stephen Pound: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he has been most generous in giving way. Before he moves away from that issue, may I point out that, as he will be aware, in 1688 the Bill of Rights was originally intended for the

As I look around me this morning, I see that there has been some progress. Does he agree that at the root of the provision is fear, and that that fear is now utterly irrelevant?

Dr. Harris: That is a point well made. Of course, we are here primarily as parliamentarians, but those who wish to identify themselves with the religion have the ability to do that. If one considers the psephology, we see there is no sign, even in Scottish seats, that any preference is given to people with a particular religion—or, I trust, a lack of religion—when standing for Parliament.

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Wikipedia lists the first 40 individuals in line to the throne, and there are some remarkable omissions. At No. 24 in the list is the Duke of Kent, the son of Prince George, the Duke of Kent. Then it says:

The “XMP” in superscript apparently means “excluded because of marrying a papist”. The list continues:

I think that the “XP” may mean that the person became a Catholic. It continues:

At No. 25, Lady Amelia Windsor—daughter of George Windsor, Earl of St. Andrews—hangs in there, but then the list says:


And so it goes on. So even in the literature, we can see that the rules have a current effect, even if not a practical effect.

Stephen Pound: I would be reluctant to use the expression “hangs in there” in the context of this debate. Can the hon. Gentleman say where, on that list, the Speaker of the House of Commons appears?

Dr. Harris: I did not realise that this was a quiz. I say to my tutor that my list only goes up to No. 40, and that is the Earl of Harewood. I think that the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to expand on his point—but not at too great a length, I hope—later.

On public opinion, fortuitously—it is amazing how much interest has been shown on the issue just today—this morning the BBC conducted an opinion poll, asking what the public thought about the matter. I am usually very severe on loaded questions, but I thought that these questions were very balanced. The BBC asked whether William should be allowed to succeed to the throne if he married a Roman Catholic. Some 81 per cent. of people thought he should, while 15 per cent. thought that would be wrong. When asked whether a woman should yield in precedence to younger brothers, 89 per cent. thought not, with a handful thinking that she should. I do not know of any political policy—not even among those in the Liberal Democrat manifesto—that has anything like two-thirds support, let alone more than 80 per cent. support, in the country.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What about a referendum on the EU treaty?

Dr. Harris: I do not think that even a referendum on the EU treaty would have 89 per cent. support, unless the Daily Mail or, say, the Shipley Post, conducted a phone-in poll of a selected sample. I say that in all seriousness, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point. The figures are significant. We are talking about a huge proportion. It is not as though there were a significant number of people who felt strongly that the current rules should be maintained. Indeed, in the same poll, only—I say “only”—76 per cent. of people said that they supported the monarchy, so more people support fairness in the monarchy than support the monarchy. The monarchy would be even more popular, I would argue, if it dealt with those problems, because then they
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would not be seen as a barrier to supporting the monarchy. The changes are therefore in the interests of the monarchy, and I do not believe—I have no information that makes me certain of this—that the monarchy cannot see that.

Simon Hughes: Does my hon. Friend accept that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) and I were just discussing, public opinion may also have been affected by the fact that, if we look back over the history of Britain, we see that when woman have been given power, they have done extremely well? Almost without exception, our female monarchs have been fantastic, and we have had a woman Prime Minister who, whatever one thought of her policies, was highly regarded as a holder of that post. The reality is that the public want more women to take high office; that must be a conclusion.

Dr. Harris: I would encourage hon. Members to focus on the topic at hand. The Bill provides enough key issues.

There is clearly support across the House for such measures from Members who have given up opportunities to introduce private Members’ Bills to propose them, on both sides of the House and in both Houses. There is also public support. I do not believe there is any opposition from Opposition Front-Benchers. Indeed, I look forward to hearing unanimous support for the Bill from them. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge is bound by party policy to support the measure, but I think he would have supported it anyway, as he was probably responsible for the party policy in the first place.

It is important to turn to the Government’s position, particularly as the Secretary of State is still with us in the Chamber. As I noted, the Government said 12 years ago that they were keen to get rid of unjustified discrimination wherever it existed, and I hope they will accept—

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The Government did indeed say that we would get rid of unjustified discrimination wherever it existed, and I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we have a record second to none in that respect. We had the Lawrence inquiry. We introduced the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which is now widely recognised as some of the best anti-discrimination legislation in respect of race anywhere in the world. It was we who ensured that we got rid of the hated and fantastically discriminatory section 28. It was I as Home Secretary who sponsored the equalisation of the age of consent. We have done a huge amount in respect of anti-discrimination against women and to equalise people’s chances and respect for different faiths and religions. The hon. Gentleman will also know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am reluctant to stop the right hon. Gentleman, but he appears to be embarking on a speech. Is he about to pose a question to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)?

Mr. Straw: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House is about to introduce a very comprehensive equality Bill?

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Dr. Harris: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record. The Government do not need to be defensive about their record, and I am not saying that he is. I, and my hon. Friends, voted for every one of those measures and, on occasion, urged the Government to go further. There is no difference between us on those proposals. Clearly, their record is better than that of the previous Government, so when he says their record is second to none, I certainly accept that it is better than that of the previous Government and previous Governments, except the Government that included Roy Jenkins. For their time, that Government were possibly more radical. They did not wait for public approval—I am not saying that the present Government did—but that Government did not legislate at a time when public opinion was liberal on homosexuality.

Andrew Mackinlay: The Justice Secretary said in an aside, “Come on Andrew,” because he saw my body language indicating dissent. I remind him, and the House, that when he became Home Secretary, I tabled a parliamentary question asking the Government at the earliest legislative opportunity to alter the law preventing an ordained Catholic man from becoming a Member of Parliament. The parliamentary reply, which is on the record, was no. Then the Labour party selected such a man for the constituency of Greenock and Port Glasgow, and we did the right thing for the wrong reason.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is falling into the same trap as the Secretary of State. I believe he is seeking to catch my eye later, and if successful, he will be able to make those points.

Dr. Harris: The hon. Member for Thurrock will indeed have a chance, as I am on the last part of my speech, in which I shall look at the Government’s position and pose some questions to the Minister. I am pleased that the Secretary of State is present—I recognise that he is a busy man—and that the Deputy Leader of the House has stayed for the debate.

I gave the Deputy Leader of the House notice that I intended to quote from his excellent work on constitutional reform. He produced a pamphlet relatively recently called “Powers to the People”, in which he identified things that could be improved. I shall quote from it as I know the hon. Gentleman is sincere in his view that these things need to happen. He wrote in that document:

Indeed, we know that daughters are not heirs apparent. They are heirs presumptive, in case there is male issue later.

The pamphlet continues:

Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway are cited, which I would say have a record second to none, compared to our country—

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The hon. Gentleman goes on to say:

He goes on to cite the example of Prince Michael of Kent, and he points out—this was written in 2008—that:

Even the most proselytising evangelical Protestant would not see that as a particularly efficient way of picking up converts.

The document continues:

The hon. Gentleman goes further than my Bill when he states:

So we come back to the limited measures in the Bill.

I cannot understand, which is why I asked the Minister, why the Government have not made more progress on the issue. The Bill states that it is for this Parliament to do so. There is a provision specifying that there must be consultation with the Commonwealth before the measure can have effect. I accept that the wording of the provision may be too wide because it refers to consulting

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