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27 Mar 2009 : Column 579

The Bill will not affect the position of the established Church. I am very ecumenical. I sit on the Cathedral Council of Lincoln cathedral, I think that the Anglican Church does a superb job and I want it to remain the established Church. I want the monarch to remain the head of the established Church as Supreme Head of the Church of England. I have no difficulty with that. However, colleagues have put it to me darkly, “Well, of course it’s discriminatory, Edward, but there’s a bit of a problem here, because if one of them marries a Catholic, their children will inevitably become Catholics.” That is a red herring, too. My children are not baptised Catholic. My wife is Russian Orthodox and my children were therefore baptised Russian Orthodox. Although I referred to my son Benedict earlier, I think he would be entitled to inherit the throne because he was not baptised a “papist.” The notion that all Catholics insist on their children being brought up Catholic is wrong—that is no longer part of our rules. Of course, as with any other religion, one should use one’s best endeavours to bring them up in the faith, but if that is not possible, so be it. If such a measure were passed, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in England could make it plain that, if the heir to the throne married a Catholic, it would be relaxed about the children being brought up as Anglicans. There is no difficulty with that.

Dr. Evan Harris: Of course, the problem would exist if the heir to the throne married a Jewish woman. Under Jewish law, those children are automatically Jewish, and they could not therefore succeed to the throne. It is not a problem that is particular to Catholics—I guess that the same would apply to Muslims. The test is whether the monarch at the time of taking the oath is in communion with the Church of England or the equivalent in Scotland. The problem is not unique to Catholic parents who have married in.

Mr. Leigh: Absolutely. Let us bury the idea straight away and give any reassurance necessary that there is no Catholic plot somehow to ensure that the kings and queens of England are Catholic for evermore. I am not sure if anyone has ever made the point that I am about to make: would it be possible for the Supreme Head of the Church of England not to be a Protestant? The Supreme Head has little practical role in the Church of England—it is a ceremonial role. I think we get too worried about such matters.

Andrew Mackinlay: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is worth bearing in mind that the Church of England diocesan bishops are appointed through the Prime Minister’s office. Clearly, a Prime Minister can be a Catholic, and many have not been communicants in the Anglican Church. I agree that the established Church is not a problem. It already works with people who are not Anglican communicants, but who facilitate the existence and works of the established Church.

Mr. Leigh: Exactly.

Let me deal with primogeniture. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon will understand that, as a traditionalist, I may slightly veer away from him. However, I am relaxed about the matter. If the House of Commons wants to vote on the matter, with us all piling in on a busy day, we should have the opportunity to do that. The Government could take over the Bill. They
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could conduct a big vote in prime time on a Wednesday afternoon—it would excite much interest. We could all have a free vote about whether we wanted a girl to succeed straight away if she was born first. As a traditionalist, I might vote against—I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind my saying that. The monarchy is not entirely a logical institution.

Andrew Mackinlay: To say the least.

Mr. Leigh: If we were entirely motivated by logic, perhaps we would not have a monarchy at all. However, we know that the monarchy is tied up with our history and tradition. We know that the Queen does a good job and we do not want someone like Richard Branson becoming president of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon said that he is not proud, and that if there are any problems with the Bill, he will hand it over to the Government.

Dr. Evan Harris: I totally accept the hon. Gentleman’s position and he was clear with me from the outset. However, it is worth pointing out that the comedian David Mitchell made a joke about a Bill. I argued that it would diminish discrimination in the country, which he took to mean discrimination in the monarchy. He said that to try to make the monarchy less discriminatory by such a measure would be like throwing a pebble into the Grand Canyon to make it less of a grand canyon, because the nature of the monarchy is that it discriminates by choosing a particular family. The Bill is not about the monarchy; it is about the message that we send to the people in the country, the monarch’s subjects and citizens.

Mr. Leigh: That is a good moment to end. The Bill is about the message that we send to the people of this country. We will no longer tolerate any kind of discrimination against any religious group on any bit of our statute. That is all that we ask from the Government and that is what we now demand from the Bill.

11.20 am

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I would like first to refer to some of the interventions that have been made, particularly that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern). There is one self-denying ordinance to which we should all subscribe, which is that we shall not start talking about Celtic and Rangers. However, I seem to remember that when Mo Johnston went from Celtic to a team in France and then on to Rangers, there was a great deal of graffiti in Glasgow that said, “Bless me father, for I have signed.” I hope that we have moved on from that.

It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). The thought of a Russian Orthodox heir to the throne would probably excite some interest in former President Putin’s inner coterie—it may be part of some diabolical plot, although I am not aware of that. I should declare that my quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that, whereas the hon. Gentleman’s son Benedict is in somewhat close proximity to the throne, my son Pelham is about 63,000,480th in line to the throne, but I love him all the same.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). He is a man with whom I do not always agree, but occasionally he has that marvellous
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quality of stepping where others fear to tread. There are times when he espouses causes that make me fear that the full moon has exerted too powerful a tug upon him. However, in this case he has done a signal service. The way he has constructed and presented the Bill, as well as the generous honour—not to mention the meaty backhander—that he offered my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, has taken us into an area that is long overdue for discussion.

In considering the matter, we must take into account two rather interesting factors. First, virtually everybody says that the measure is a long overdue corrective and that the current position is indefensible. However, it is only when we go to the next step and say, “Well, why haven’t we corrected it? Why are we defending it?” that we come to the meat of the matter. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) posited one of the most logical and conservative suggestions when he said that it would be inappropriate to the change the system, because it had worked fairly well as it was and because things were far too complicated.

That is the pure conservative argument, which was, sadly, shared by my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor when he said:

but that

So the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon has somehow advanced no immediate plans, despite a widespread discussion in the press and the media today. The hon. Member for Gainsborough prayed in aid the professor of constitutional law at University college London, Robert Blackburn, and his point is exactly right. A House that can see a Finance Bill through could certainly see this Bill through.

If there is no real argument against the Bill, if the complexity argument is pretty thoroughly destroyed and if there is no real objection under the Statute of Westminster 1931, is there a theological argument against the Bill? Is there perhaps some subliminal fear, still today, that Roman Catholics are fit to be ruled, but are not fit to be rulers? Is there still some visceral fear that there is an inherent disloyalty in Roman Catholics? My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West rightly quoted former President Kennedy. I would not remotely mention myself in the same breath, but I, too, received postcards on being elected saying that I would listen to the Vatican before I would listen to Northolt.

Dr. Evan Harris: If the hon. Gentleman saw my postbag, which I would be happy to share with him, as I proposed the Bill, he would see that there is still, in a very small number of people, that visceral, irrational and unjustified fear. That is one of the reasons why we should pass the Bill, because doing so is the sort of thing that we need to do to neutralise that fear, rather
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than wait for it to flow away. The whole point of the Bill is to tackle that head on, because part of the Bill is about tackling prejudice wherever it exists, as well as eliminating unjustified discrimination wherever it exists.

Stephen Pound: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. My mind goes back to 19 December 2001, when he and I were in the same Lobby supporting the Bill that was introduced by Kevin McNamara. That Bill was slightly wider than the hon. Gentleman’s Bill and aimed to amend section 3 of the Treason Felony Act 1948 and, inter alia, abolish the crime, punishable under treason legislation, for even suggesting that a republic might be a reasonable option or for criticising the monarchy in any way, shape or form. In fact, under the wording of the 1848 Act, it was treason to

which is a pretty wide net.

When the hon. Gentleman and I voted on that occasion, the Tellers for the Noes were the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). The right hon. Gentleman has, it cannot be denied, mellowed—indeed, he has mellowed almost beyond all recognition. However, on 19 December 2001 he was still in the process of approaching mellowing. He decided that he would oppose Kevin McNamara’s Bill on a number of grounds, one of which was that whatever we did in this country was not nearly as bad as what the Catholics did in Spain.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Is that a good argument?

Stephen Pound: It is an interesting argument, although I am not entirely sure that it appeals to me. Apparently, in Spain there is a requirement that members of the royal family be members of a particular house, and that house is predominantly Roman Catholic.

The right hon. Member for North Antrim also referred to the Williamite revolution settlement that has served the nation so well, although I would perhaps resile from uncritically approving the Williamite revolution settlement. He then said, in effect, that were the succession aspects of Kevin McNamara’s Bill to be passed, they would cause chaos and crises in the great houses of Europe. No other conversation would be had, from the grand duchies to Luxembourg—I think that even San Marino was prayed in aid.

The number of people supporting the right hon. Gentleman in the Lobby that day was 32. The number of people in the other Lobby, opposing him and supporting Kevin McNamara, was 170. Incidentally, it is a great shame, reading the list of the Ayes, to see that some 30 or 40 former right hon. and hon. Members who voted are no longer in this House, for various reasons—some of them, sadly, are in the House of Lords.

A great discussion took place on that occasion. One fundamental point that we returned to over and over again—often in coded language, although sometimes in less than coded language—was whether a Roman Catholic owes fealty, duty or loyalty to the Holy Father or to the head of our country, the monarch, Her Majesty. As with I would hope, every other loyal Roman Catholic, there would be no question about that for me. I recognise, respect and have massive admiration for Her Majesty as the leader of our country. There is absolutely no question
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about that, yet the point was raised over and over again, as if we were some devious, black-clad, neo-Jesuitical fifth column that was infiltrating the body politic, waiting for the very moment when we could leap from behind the arras and say, “Queen Mary is back! Light the bonfires!”

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush) (Lab) rose—

Stephen Pound: On that point, I will happily give way.

Mr. Slaughter: I am listening intently to my hon. Friend and neighbour, and I do not wish to drop him in it, but while I was looking up this matter on the BBC website today, the following story came up:

that although

There seem to be some intimations of the gunpowder plot.

Stephen Pound: Fortunately—I associate myself with the words of the hon. Member for Gainsborough—we have apologised for the gunpowder plot. People must realise that the origins of the gunpowder plot were not in the Roman Catholic Church in Rome or in this country, but that it was all the fault of the war in the Netherlands at that time. Guido Fawkes would have been called a freedom fighter in other times.

It would be impossible for me to claim the normal defence for what I said all those years ago, which is that I was but a callow youth—I was certainly shallow. Perhaps I have moved on a bit, and perhaps the discussion has, too.

There have been so many occasions in our nation’s history when the fear of Catholicism has manifested itself not just in genteel debate and discussion but in blood and death on the streets. We will not go back beyond the papal bull of 1570, which is in many ways the starting point, but let us think of the popish plot, as it was then called. Titus Oates, a figure who is often not mentioned in history—his name is well known, even if he is not often discussed in detail—was born in 1649, the year of the execution of Charles I, or Charles the Martyr. As we know, Titus Oates was responsible for a double perjury that led to the execution of some 15 Catholics, including the Archbishop of Armagh.

Oates was a man, incidentally, with a rather extraordinary past. He started off as an Anglican priest and, after an unfortunate incident involving accusations of sodomy in Hastings, he was appointed as chaplain to the good ship Adventurer, where sadly there was a further accusation of sodomy—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I trust that the hon. Gentleman is about to tell the House how that relates to the Bill.

Stephen Pound: Despite those two accusations, Titus Oates was employed by the Duke of Norfolk as an Anglican chaplain. As we know, he subsequently went
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to Valladolid where he retrained as a Jesuit. He returned to this country and uttered the most foul libels and lies that led to the death and execution of innocent Catholics.

Mr. Leigh rose—

Stephen Pound: On the subject of innocent Catholics, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Leigh: That story is relevant because Titus Oates was a Government stooge—a bit like a Government Whip—was he not? He was doing the dirty work of the Government.

Stephen Pound: To imply that a Government Whip is in any way a Government stooge is outrageous. The scale of remuneration is entirely different. We should not forget that Titus Oates received an annual allowance of £1,200. Perhaps Government Whips get that much—I do not know. That stipend was removed when James II—the great King James—came to the throne. When King James sadly left these lands, it was reinstated. We should not forget that King James, under the noble, generous and warm-hearted Judge Jeffreys, ordered Titus Oates to be pilloried and whipped, not once but annually, immediately outside this building in New Palace Yard, where he was also to be pelted with eggs and to carry a sign saying that he was a shame to mankind.

My point is that someone who was so demonstrably and risibly a perjurer, with such an extraordinary background in Hastings and the Royal Navy, managed—in the company of a man called Israel Tonge, who was an equally inflammatory pamphleteer—to persuade the nation to execute Catholics on the grounds that they might possibly represent a threat to the nation.

If Titus Oates managed to kill some 15 Catholics, Lord George Gordon, at the time of the Gordon riots in the late 18th century—well known to everybody who has read “Barnaby Rudge”—was responsible for the death of about 450 people. That brings us fairly up to date. Although Lord George Gordon sat in the upper House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We have heard about Titus Oates at some length; we do not want to hear too much about Lord George Gordon— [ Laughter. ] Seriously, the hon. Gentleman ought to come more directly to the content of the Bill.

Stephen Pound: You are entirely correct, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point that I was trying to make is that I detect in the discussion about this Bill a visceral fear. Even though the Gordon riots were in the 1780s, they still resulted in people’s death. Although, as we all know, he converted to Judaism and went to live in Birmingham, people still died as a result of his actions.

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