That provision, which is discriminatory and applies only to Roman Catholics is wrong and should be removed from our statute law.
In his speech on his ten-minute Bill, he mentioned that Cardinal OBrien, 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
clearly discriminatory and a breach of the human rights of members of the royal family...it should be repealed.
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.
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.
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 [ Official Report, 8 March 2005; Vol. 431, c. 1392.]
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
mixed marriagethat is not his phraseare 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.
In a civilised society there ought to be no reason to introduce this Bill. If we proposed a Bill on the Floor of the House of Commons that would make it illegal for the heir to the throne to marry a Muslim, a Methodist or a Mormon, that would be intolerable in a free society, yet the heir to the throne is still not allowed to marry a member of what is, on any Sunday, the largest worshipping community in this country. That is an insult to the Catholic community because it suggests that, somehow or other, being a Roman Catholic means being less of a citizen than someone belonging to any other religious denomination.
I admit that I feel ashamed that I did not introduce the Bill before, when I was an Anglican. Since becoming a Catholic, I have recognised what the attitude towards this denomination means. For that reason, I am trying to make up for the history.[ Official Report, 20 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 154.]
I spoke to the right hon. Gentleman before todays 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
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:
the Act of Settlement...is extremely offensive in that regard. It stipulates that those who profess the Popish religion can neither be monarchs nor marry into the royal family.[ Official Report, 19 December 2001; Vol. 377, c. 320.]
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
effectual preserving the Kings person and Government, by disabling Papists from sitting in either House of Parliament?
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 religionor, I trust, a lack of religionwhen standing for Parliament.
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:
skipped George Windsor, Earl of St Andrews...(XMP)
skipped Edward Windsor, Lord Downpatrick...(XP)
skipped Lady Marina-Charlotte Windsor...(XP).
skipped Lord Nicholas Windsor...(XP)
skipped Albert Windsor...(XP).
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 pointbut not at too great a length, I hopelater.
On public opinion, fortuitouslyit is amazing how much interest has been shown on the issue just todaythis 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 policynot even among those in the Liberal Democrat manifestothat has anything like two-thirds support, let alone more than 80 per cent. support, in the country.
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, onlyI say only76 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
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 believeI have no information that makes me certain of thisthat 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.
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 Governments 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 peoples 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)?
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 approvalI am not saying that the present Government didbut 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 Governments position and pose some questions to the Minister. I am pleased that the Secretary of State is presentI recognise that he is a busy manand 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:
The succession to the crown is presently determined by the Act of Settlement 1701, which stipulates that the throne shall pass to the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant descendants according to the principle of male preference primogeniture. This means that the crown passes to the eldest son and his descendants before it would pass to a daughter or her line. Even if the eldest child were a daughter, she would not accede to the throne unless the male line had been exhausted.
Clearly this is unfairand most other European monarchies
have already changed their equivalent acts of succession to provide for absolute primogeniture, so that men and women are guaranteed equality.
Whilst the UK could only proceed with reform in this with the agreement of other Commonwealth nations who share the monarch, there is a strong argument for reform now, before Prince William or Prince Harry has children. If Williams first child were to be a girl and his second a boy, it would be inconceivable that the daughter should not inherit the crown. For that very reason, in Sweden the succession was changed when there was already a male presumptive heir who was replaced in favour of his elder sister.
The Act of Settlement also requires that any descendant who is or becomes a Roman Catholic, or who marries a Roman Catholic, is barred from the succession.
In May of this year, Princess Annes son Peter Philips ... married his Canadian fiancé Autumn Kellyonly after she had converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism in order to secure his place in the pecking order for the succession.
The Act also stipulates that the sovereign must be in communion with the Church of England, must swear to preserve the church, and to uphold the Protestant line of succession.
The government has tended to oppose such moves on the grounds that if there were no bar to a Catholic taking the throne the monarchs role as Governor of the Church of England would be in question. However, several senior members of the Church of England, including the former Archbishop of York, have argued for the repeal of these provisions, at least so as to allow the monarch or heir to the throne to marry a Catholic.
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