21.–(1) Any private business which has been set down for consideration at 7.00 pm, 4.00 pm or 2.00 pm (as the case may be) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day.

(2) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before the moment of interruption, for a period equal to the time elapsing between 7.00 pm, 4.00 pm or 2.00 pm (as the case may be) and the conclusion of those proceedings.

The Government tabled the motion in order to provide two days of discussion of the Bill in the House of Commons. It is a very short Bill, with just five clauses and one schedule, and it has been tightly drafted to give effect to the agreement by Commonwealth realm Heads of Government to change the rules governing succession to the Crown. It will remove the male bias in the line of succession and the bar on the heir to the throne from marrying a Catholic, and replace the Royal Marriages Act 1772 with provisions that are suitable for the present day. I am confident that all Members will agree that those are laudable aims. They have been public since the Perth announcement in 2011, and I am very pleased that they have cross-party support. Having secured the full agreement of all realms to the text of the Bill,

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the Government are now keen to make progress as quickly as possible. We believe that, given the narrow scope of the Bill, two days of debate in this place will be ample.

1.27 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): We support the motion.

1.27 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I beg to move amendment (a), in paragraph 1(3), after ‘Reading’, insert

‘and on any Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that has been selected by the Speaker, which shall be debated with the Second Reading,’.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider amendment (b), leave out paragraph 2(b).

Jacob Rees-Mogg: We are discussing what may be the most important constitutional issue to which the House has ever turned its mind, namely, who shall be our sovereign. Who shall be eligible to receive perhaps the greatest office in the world? Who shall be the King or Queen of England?

When the Bill that became the Act of Settlement was debated, it spent six days in Committee. The allocation of time motion allows us two days in which to treat this Bill as if it were anti-terrorism legislation, which seems a particularly inopportune comparison given that it relates to matters that could not be further removed from that type of activity. As far as I am aware, the only constitutional Bill that has been treated to such a small amount of time—or, rather, an even smaller amount—is the Bill that became His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act 1936, which, I believe, completed its passage in the House of Commons in under a minute; but that, too, is not a happy precedent.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Is not the point that there really was rather an emergency on that occasion? The King had signified his abdication the previous day, and on 12 December the House had to enact, because there was no existing means of enabling the King to abdicate.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: For once I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. There was a genuine emergency then, but it is hard to see that there is a genuine emergency now. I am a great admirer of the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council, because he has managed, in his role and in the coalition, to put into effect what Palmerston promised: that the Government would eventually run out of matters on which to legislate. It is not as if we have an enormously packed legislative programme waiting for this House to turn its mind to and to pass. We spend hours debating the taxation of lorries and other such matters, which get a full day allocated for Second Reading, whereas the succession to the Crown is to be dealt with in a truncated Second Reading debate, a brief Committee stage, and then one day for the remaining stages. That seems to me to be an insult to the nation, to our sovereign and, indeed, to Parliament.

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Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Is it the hon. Gentleman’s understanding, as it is mine, that significant subsequent legislative changes will be required to no fewer than nine Acts of Parliament—the Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement, the Union with Scotland Act 1706, the Coronation Oath Act 1688, the Princess Sophia’s Precedence Act 1711, the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the Union with Ireland Act 1800, the Accession Declaration Act 1910 and the Regency Act 1937—and that we require more time to explore the implications and impact of those changes?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Again, I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. We need time to consider constitutional issues properly, because they have complex knock-on effects and their phraseology is crucial to how the Crown might pass in future. If mistakes are made now, we could discover that we end up with consequences that we do not want, or indeed—this comes back to my amendments to this allocation of time motion—that we are not able to consider matters that are very pertinent to parts of the Bill because the phrasing is too narrow and things have been done within a time limit that makes it very hard to extend into these issues.

My amendments seek to allow for an instruction to be debated that would widen the scope of the Bill to include the consequence of a marriage to a Catholic. I speak as a Catholic or, in the terminology of the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement, as a “Papist”—as a member of the “Popish” religion—and I am happy to do so. I find no shame in being called that; I rather prefer it to the more politically correct phraseology of “person of the Roman Catholic faith”, which is rather middle-management-speak, if I may say so.

It is proposed in the Bill that a Catholic may marry an heir to the throne but may not then maintain the succession by bringing up a child of that marriage as a Catholic. The reason I object to that is because it is an attack on the teaching of the Catholic Church. Canon 1125 states specifically that the bishop, who can give a dispensation for a Catholic to marry a non-Catholic, is not to do so unless

“the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church”.

When I got married, it was with great pleasure and joy that I was able to make that promise, because there is no finer thing to be able to pass on to one’s children than one’s own religion; there is nothing finer than to have that hope of faith, that joy of salvation that comes from passing on what has come from one’s own forebears through the generations. In this Bill and under this allocation of time motion, the House is not allowed to consider the natural consequence of what is being proposed by Her Majesty’s Government. I would therefore like the amendment to be made so that we are able to consider the natural consequences of what the legislation proposes.

I would like us to also be able to amend the legislation so that a child of such a marriage that the law would allow could be a Catholic, but to protect the position of the Church of England, which obviously cannot be led by a non-member of that Church, so that under the Regency Act 1937 a regent would be appointed to take on the role of Supreme Governor of the Church of

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England and to hold the title “Defender of the Faith”—a papal title that has been taken by the Crown since the reign of Henry VIII. That is an entirely logical extension of what is proposed in the Bill and time ought to be allowed to debate it, because when we start these changes and decide that in this modern age we need to be more politically correct and allow Catholics to marry into the throne, we have to consider the consequence.

The consequence of what is being proposed is to leave in the deeply hostile anti-Catholic language contained in the Act of Settlement and the Bill of Rights. Such language would not conceivably be used by any Member of this House in this more modern age. The consequence is to leave all that, but to take out just a few words. If I may, Mr Speaker, it might be worth my reading out a little of this language:

“And whereas it hath beene found by Experience that it is inconsistent with the Safety and Welfaire of this Protestant Kingdome to be governed by a Popish Prince or by any King or Queene marrying a Papist the said Lords Spirituall and Temporall and Commons doe further pray that it may be enacted That all and every person and persons that is are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall professe the Popish Religion or shall marry a Papist shall be excluded and be for ever uncapeable to inherit possesse or enjoy the Crowne and Government of this Realme”.

We are proposing to remove from that fewer than a dozen words and leave the main substance intact. I would happily accept no change at all, because that is the history of our nation.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): My hon. Friend is an extremely great man. As a churchwarden in the Church of England, I salute the Catholic Church for its adherence to a principle that has not always been so prevalent in the Church of England. He raises some interesting points, and his amendment proposing that there should a regent who should be responsible for answering to the Church of England would create a fundamental change in our constitution. Accordingly, I entirely agree with him that this matter should not be rushed through this House or through Parliament. We should not trifle with the constitution of this realm in such a fashion, so I support entirely what he has just said.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend because that is the crux of my view. Let us suppose that we were to make no change. We live with the great history of this nation day by day, and it is a history that I am proud of and love; when we change it, we have to think carefully about the words we use. We have to think about the great offence given to Her Majesty’s loyal Catholic subjects by going back to the language of the Act of Settlement with a minor amendment.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): If the House were to require more time, it would be to absorb the shock of the hon. Gentleman turning from so eloquent a proponent of things as they are to someone who wants to remove, at one stroke, the Act of Settlement, the Act of Union and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. What has turned him from a man of conservative instincts to a radical firebrand in such a short time?

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Jacob Rees-Mogg: The answer is simple: the amendments being introduced by Her Majesty’s Government. There is no need to change the Act of Settlement and there is no need to make this provision for a Catholic to marry into the Crown, but once we start fiddling, we have to do it properly.

Chris Bryant: I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course it may be that he is a true Tory and he is not happy that some of this legislation was Whig legislation. He referred to some specific words in the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement:

“is are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome”.

If an Anglican marries a Catholic in a Catholic service in a Catholic church, it is difficult to argue that that person is not reconciled to or holding communion with the see or Church of Rome. That is precisely the kind of issue we need to tease out.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Once again, I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. That is why it is so important that we should have proper time for this debate and to debate the full ramifications of what the Government are trying to do. The argument that the measure has been agreed by Her Majesty’s other realms is not sufficient. It needs to have been thought through properly in one of her realms first, before we see whether the other realms will accept it. Yes, there might be a child—a happy event for Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—and let us hope that that is the case, but there would be no harm in allowing the legislation to be dated from today, even if that birth were to take place. There is no urgency. The succession is apparently very secure: the heir apparent is a youngish man and so is his son.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that we would surely hope that no other realm would spend any less time discussing the measure than it looks like we will spend on it this afternoon?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Of course, the sovereign is also King or Queen of Scotland, which is a very important title.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but I think that this is a matter of fundamental importance. We are changing that part of our constitution that is most precious in a rush, as if it is anti-terrorist legislation, and we are not allowing ourselves proper time to consider all the ramifications of what is entailed by Her Majesty’s Government’s position. I therefore hope that the House will consider accepting my amendment to make some improvement to the Bill, although I fear that it still will not allow sufficient time for all one might wish to discuss.

1.41 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is always a huge pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I must declare my interest as he has—not that I have any ambitions to marry anyone who is in line to succession to the throne—

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Just as well.

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Keith Vaz: As I am already married—

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): He would if he could.

Keith Vaz: But I am a Catholic—

Mr Speaker: Order. I think it was the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames)—if I am wrong, so be it—who muttered from a sedentary position that it was just as well that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) had no such intention. I ought also to point out that it is just as well for Mrs Maria Vaz.

Keith Vaz: It is indeed, Mr Speaker, and I am most grateful to you for reminding me of my wife’s name.

The interest I should declare is that I too am a Catholic, although, unlike the hon. Member for North East Somerset, I am not from one of the grand Catholic houses. An even greater Catholic than the hon. Gentleman—if there is such a person—the Archbishop of Westminster, has written to the Government to confirm that the Catholic Church supports what the Government are doing, or at the very least does not object to the proposals.

I believe that we need to get on with this, partly because of the happy royal event that will take place some time in July, and also because I introduced my ten-minute rule Bill on the subject on 18 January 2011, following a number of right hon. and hon. Members who in preceding centuries have produced ten-minute rule Bills—if such a device existed before the last century—to try to do exactly the same thing: to modernise the monarchy and provide for equality. I think the previous Member to do that was the former Member for Oxford West and Abingdon, before he lost his seat. Such legislation has a long history and the Government are right to fast-track the Bill and provide, in my view, generous time for it to be discussed. I know that the hon. Member for North East Somerset said that anti-terrorism legislation takes longer, but terrorism order debates that I have attended have had much less time allocated on the Floor of the House.

The first argument for getting on with this is the royal event that will take place shortly. Of course, the Commonwealth agreed the measure on 28 October 2011 and, as the Prime Minister has said, it is retrospective, but it would be absurd if the royal child was born before Parliament deliberated changing the law. It is much better that we should do it now.

I pay tribute to the Deputy Prime Minister for the amount of time he has spent on this issue. It is clearly not one of the Government’s great priorities, but he has spent a lot of face time in meetings with me and with many others, and spoken to Heads of Government throughout the Commonwealth. I am grateful to him for what he has done. Let us get on with it, let us have the debate and let us pass this legislation.

1.45 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I rise to speak in support of the amendments. My concern about the motion is that Second Reading will be directly followed by Committee stage. The difficulty lies in the

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question of the role of Parliament, which one would presume is to legislate rather than to assent to legislation. Very often, Parliament is being driven to assent to legislation drafted in Whitehall.

The difficulty when Committee follows Second Reading concerns our ability to review the issues that are raised on Second Reading, even though we will have further consideration on Monday. The Bill of Rights, for example, was not just a matter between Parliament and the Crown; it involved the people of the country, too. The process of producing this Bill offers us no clarity about how to involve the people of this country in potentially important constitutional changes. I accept that that is not necessary in this case, but there would be circumstances in which a threshold might be met. If we changed documents that, when drafted, said that they could not be changed, that would require assent from the population. That has been accepted in relation to changes to our relationship and settlement with the EU. Perhaps we should be considering more widely when the people should be involved in decisions on constitutional changes, through a referendum or some other mechanism.

Other issues have not been sorted out, such as the lack of equality of treatment between a Queen and a King. A Queen cannot decide what to call her spouse, whereas a King can call his spouse either Queen or Princess Consort. Those questions are not being considered. We need time for issues raised on Second Reading to come back to the House in a proper manner. I accept that, unusually, amendments were allowed to be tabled before Second Reading, but in the future we should avoid Committee stage following Second Reading immediately.

1.47 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I warmly support the amendment proposed by the firebrand from North East Somerset. There is an extraordinary coalition of opinion behind the view that more time should be given: it includes royalists, republicans and, allegedly, a member of the royal family, although we cannot draw on his name in support of it. We find ourselves in that position because we have opened Pandora’s box. Long-established opinion was that we should not touch the Act of Settlement at all—it was part of the settled constitution of the land; many people, including Catholics, were opposed to any change; and even though others regarded the gender bias as an outrage, they did not want to open the succession to the throne to further debate—but as we are having the debate now, and as we have these debates only once every 300 years, it is worth suggesting some reforms appropriate for future centuries.

There is no hurry to pass this Bill. If we change the reference to children “born after 28 October” to children “whenever born”, that would solve a number of problems, including the problem of whether it can be applied to the birth of the royal child and in the future. If this is such a splendid idea, I cannot see any reason why it should not operate straight away. It is unlikely that it would have many effects, because most of the possible senior inheritors of the throne are male anyway.

We must consider the opinion of this country on the choice that was handed down to us at a time when they believed in the divine right of kings. I can remember Alf Garnett pointing out to the “Scouse git”, in the manner

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of working-class knowledge, that royalty were descended from God, and I was told as a child that they had blue blood in their veins, but I think we can now regard royalty as being as good and virtuous, or as frail and fragile, as the rest of us. We are unanimous in paying tribute to Her Majesty, who has had a faultless reign in which she has made no attempt to meddle in politics, but if we look back at history, that has not always been the case. We have had plenty of monarchs who were mad, bad or sad—some all three—and we cannot say with any certainty that future monarchs will have the same personality and strength of character as the Queen.

Apart from their ceremonial rule, the monarch plays a crucial role as Head of State. Insufficient attention has been given to what Robert Rhodes James, a greatly respected Member of the House and historian, wrote about the situation in the Conservative party when it was about to topple Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. He said that there was great concern in the top echelons of the Tory party about the fact that Mrs Thatcher wanted to call a general election. Parliament could not stop her; the Conservative party could not stop her; the Cabinet could not stop her; but the monarch could. In that situation, the monarch would act and play a vital role as Head of State by overruling a Prime Minister who was acting in their own interests rather than the interests of the country.

It is important that we consider the personality and character of the next Head of State, and I believe that there is a case for considering skipping a generation. It should be up to the public to decide. If the Queen lives as long as her mother, as we all hope she does, we are unlikely to have a change of Head of State for another 20 years, at which time the present heir will be in his late 80s. There will be other considerations, too: doubts have been expressed about his personality and involvement in politics. We should have more time to discuss all the amendments that have been tabled, including the proposal that the public should consider skipping a generation.

1.52 pm

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I very much welcome the Bill, and the time that we have to debate it in the House today. Indeed, I do not just welcome it: I, and others like me, have been calling for such a Bill for many years on the ground that we should not have to do this as a matter of urgency, as it is now. I do not blame the Government, who have taken action—indeed, I break with personal tradition and compliment the Deputy Prime Minister on the action that he took in negotiating with our Commonwealth partners to reach this legislative stage—but previous Governments should have taken action on this long ago.

Given the current situation, I appreciate that there is some urgency, but I wish to ask a genuine question of the Minister. It is difficult to understand, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) so eloquently argued, why that urgency means that we have to take more than one stage of the Bill in one day. There is some urgency, but we are not so close to the end of the parliamentary Session or, indeed, to the imminent birth of the new member of the royal family that we could not have more than one day to debate the Bill. I raise the issue because, in general,

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I have a constant concern that constitutional Bills should be treated properly on the Floor of the House, which means having not just sufficient time, but more time than is allocated to ordinary Bills.

1.54 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I, too, add my support to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). What an unlikely coalition of high Papist and tight Prod, pleb. Should we call it the “Papal Prod Pleb Alliance”, perhaps stronger than the one formed in the rose garden—who knows? Hopefully, it is an alliance that will be listened to today by the House, as we require more time.

This is an important constitutional issue that affects all the people of all the islands of this kingdom and the many Overseas Territories of which Her Gracious Majesty is Queen. We should take time to go over all these matters and consider them. In an intervention, I said that there were many Acts on which the Bill will impact, spanning from the 1600s to the 1900s. We should look carefully at the implications of all those things. Members assume that they know the intended consequences of the Bill, and indeed we have seen some of them, but there are unintended consequences too, as well as unknown consequences. We should therefore take time to consider what those consequences are.

Recently in Northern Ireland, we had a move to remove a symbol of our state from a public building. People thought that they knew the intended consequences, and thought that there would be minor disruption. There have been over 70 days of disruption costing many millions of pounds, because people did not take time properly to consider the consequences of that foolhardy action. Before we unpick something that is settled—the Act of Settlement, the hint is in the name: it is settled—we should take time. We should take time before we start to unravel that, perhaps causing unnecessary tension across the nation that could have consequences far beyond those intended by the Deputy Prime Minister in the Bill. I support the amendment, as we should take more time and get this matter right.

1.56 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I want to speak against the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), although I have some reservations about the way the Government have sought, at least initially, to timetable the Bill.

I oppose the amendment, because it is designed to facilitate a great widening of the scope of the Bill beyond its intended purpose and into another area, beyond what was agreed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government. There may be some wider agreement on that, but it is a much bigger thing. It conjures up a nightmare vision: the hon. Member for North East Somerset, perhaps clad in a suit of armour, waving a sword that slices up all the constitutional documents to which he has previously referred with such reverence. That is why I have called him a radical firebrand all of a sudden. What is at stake is the Protestant succession, the position of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, and the coronation oath to defend the

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Protestant reformed religion—all those things—and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister would have been cautious about going into that territory.

There are issues that we need to discuss, and which can be discussed within this framework, about the consequences of particular provisions, particularly for the children of a mixed marriage such as one that is envisaged, if in effect their opportunity to succeed to the throne was decided for them at an early age. We shall come on to that. My concern was greatest when the Government seemed to want to do this in one day, without an interval between any of the Bill’s stages. I regarded that as unacceptable and would have voted against it if it had proceeded to a vote.

What happens when we deal with legislation is that things are discovered in Committee, and we have to do something different on Report. If we compress the time so much that we do not have an opportunity to do so, it is pretty serious. Even when that has been done in a genuine emergency with terrorism legislation, it has often led to bad consequences, and it is a bad way of legislating.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has just referred to the possibility of a royal son married to a woman of Roman Catholic faith. A child is born, and someone decides of which faith they shall be. Is it the woman, or the man, or even the child, after perhaps 18 years? Who would be the decider of the faith of that child?

Sir Alan Beith: There is no answer to that question. One answer that I can give the hon. Gentleman is that it has very serious consequences, one of which would be the inclusion or exclusion of that child from the right to succeed to the throne and that decision would be taken when it was at a very early age. I hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss that, if the Committee stage is managed such that we are able to discuss the relevant clause.

I was addressing the desirability of legislation having stages. There should be a gap between the stages, and we have now arrived at that slightly happier position because Report will not be for a few days. I am entirely supported in my argument by the Government’s own action in tabling an amendment to their own Bill. Having believed at an earlier stage that it could all be done in one day, they have proved that that is a bad idea. I hope they have learned a lesson from that.

2 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I am not British and not a royalist. I am a constitutional republican and an Irish nationalist. I do not purport to know all the possible consequences of the Bill and I do not pretend to care about some of those that I do know about. However, there are aspects of the Bill and of the consequences of passing it which persuade me that more time is needed. Those who care about these various consequences should be given more time, as should those of us who want to elaborate on some of the issues involved in the Bill—such as the fact that in the 21st century we still leave such sectarian language on the statute book.

The choice that we are making through the amendments that will result from this Bill puts a 21st century licence on arcane and offensive language. The provisions are

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quite sectarian. If a politician in Northern Ireland used the same language on a political platform, people would talk about incitement to religious hatred, but the Bill, for reasons of constitutional sensitivity, for reasons of ecclesiastical sensitivity to do with the constitutional settlement, leaves that language in place, safe and untouched.

If we were commenting on other regimes, other countries, other states that are being built and reformed, and if they were putting such intense, offensive and exclusive religious provisions into their constitution, we would be calling for all sorts of UN standards to be observed, we would be calling for reports and applying diplomatic pressure, and we would have the Foreign Secretary and others telling us from the Dispatch Box that they were trying to offer good and wise counsel to other people and other Parliaments and urging them not to rush such provisions. But that is precisely what is happening here.

I accept that, in the circumstances, there is obviously a timeliness and an urgency about particular provisions, specifically the gender discriminatory provision. As someone who believes fundamentally in civil rights and equality, I am for any provision that removes any layer of gender inequality from any aspect of the state’s life. Similarly, as someone absolutely committed to civil rights, I would want to support anything that removes any layer of religious discrimination. Although we are being allowed to remove one layer of religious discrimination in relation to the Bill, we are not allowed to address the others layers of religious discrimination that are still provided for and put into the infrastructure of the state. It is not a state that I particularly want to be part of. I have other aspirations in other directions, but I am not here to be subversive in any way. I have always respected the Queen and those who respect the Queen. I met her when I was Deputy First Minister—indeed, I was the first nationalist Minister to receive the Queen officially anywhere on the island of Ireland. As a Member of Parliament I have received her in my constituency and I have met her on other occasions, so I am not here in any way to disrespect. But those of us who have a different take on the Bill want time to bring up some of the issues that we want to highlight, just as we want to hear from others who want to highlight other issues.

John Hemming: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it seems that because civil servants have been tasked with writing something to deal with a very narrow issue, they have ignored all the other issues, and the programme motion is preventing Parliament from properly considering various aspects?

Mark Durkan: Yes, as happens with many such things. When the civil service and the parliamentary draftsmen are asked to look at things, their predictive text mentality focuses only on certain aspects and the rest of us cannot get any other logic or language in there. That is precisely the present situation. We do not have to take huge numbers of days to debate the Bill, but if Members are to be comfortable with how and what they are legislating for, we need more time.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) said that we now have separate stages, but the Report stage will be very compressed and when Lords amendments come to the House, there cannot be amendments to them in this House, as far as I can see,

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unless they are tabled by a Minister of the Crown. There will be a very short Report stage and a short stage for Lords amendments.

Ian Paisley: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for adding to the strange and wonderful coalition that is emerging on the matter. Does he agree that the Government appear to be saying, “We cannot give you more time because we would have to go to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Belize, St Lucia, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, St Christopher, St Kitts, Nevis, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon islands, Barbados, the Bahamas and Jamaica and ask them their opinions, and that is just too complex, so let’s push this through in a hurry”? That is wrong. Not only have we a right to raise all the issues that concern us, but all those other territories will have matters that are of concern to them and they should have the same rights as we have.

Mark Durkan: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. None of the arguments or excuses that might be offered for simply microwaving the Bill through in its present form—as the Government are doing today, without looking at the suspect content that we will still be leaving on the statute book—will stand. Those of us who are calling for more time are not calling for hugely more time, nor are we talking about the sort of grand world tour that I am sure the hon. Gentleman would love to go on to consult people in those other Chambers.

I know that some Members, including probably the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), have a deep allegiance to the Crown. I know that the former Member for North Antrim, who just happened to have the same name as the current hon. Member, used to state straightforwardly that he was loyal to the Crown so long as the Crown remained Protestant. I am sensitive to why people have their own issues and their own thoughts, but other people have a different conscience and a different approach.

If some people’s loyalty or allegiance to the Crown is qualified by that religious precondition, those of us in the House who do not share that view have to ask why we, as the price of taking up membership in the House, are forced to recite a form of words that we do not believe. We pledge allegiance to the sovereign and to her heirs and successors, and remember, the Bill will make a change that has implications for who the heirs and successors might be. People are concerned about some of the consequences and the conundrums that might arise as a result of these changes. But I hope that those who have such sensitivities and concerns about succession will have some sensitivity to those of us who are forced, as the price of representing our constituents, to use either the affirmation or the oath. I use the affirmation, and I then hand my letter of protest about that to the Speaker. I use it under protest because I will not swear a lie. I will not swear a lie that I will bear allegiance to someone to whom—

Paul Flynn: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the last time the House discussed an alternative oath, 140 Members voted in favour of it, for all kinds of reasons? It is reasonable that we should return to the matter and have an alternative oath for those who find

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that they are not telling the truth when they take the oath. It is possible to put words before it or after it which negate the oath.

Mark Durkan: I entirely support my hon. Friend. I indicate that I am reciting the formula only in order to represent my constituents, then I read my formula. No doubt other hon. Members have other ways of doing that. I do that, as I indicated earlier, not to be subversive or offensive in any way, but to be true to the integrity of my own position. I would expect no less from anybody who does not share my views or who deeply differs from those views.

If hon. Members get a chance during the limited time that we have on the Bill to make the point that their allegiance to the Crown depends on its religious attachment in future, will they also consider whether it is reasonable to expect a pledge of allegiance to the Crown to be imposed on the rest us who either do not share that religious precondition or who simply do not share the constitutional outlook which I know is cherished by so many in the House, but is just not part of my make-up as a constitutional Irish nationalist?

2.9 pm

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): One of the worst constitutional innovations of the previous Government was their decision automatically to timetable every piece of legislation they brought before this House, which I regretted and opposed at the time. When the coalition Government took office, I was very pleased with their language, because they told us that they were committed to a stronger democracy and a stronger Parliament. What better proof could there be that they not only have those beliefs, but wish to put them into action, than that they not automatically timetable every Bill brought before us?

I rise to speak on the timetable motion because there is a feeling in the House that it is wrong and because it relates to a constitutional Bill. If there is any kind of legislation that should be hammered out and discussed in full on the Floor of the House, it is on matters relating to our constitution. We are the custodians of the constitution. That constitution either expresses the freedoms we believe in or it lets us down, depending on our point of view and the state we have reached. It would be a great day if the Deputy Prime Minister, a former lover of freedom and of an independent Parliament, rose from the Front Bench and said, “I hear what you say. We will give you the freedom to debate this at the length of your choosing.”

Often when we have guillotines, we find that legislation is rushed through with insufficient consideration. Last night an important Bill went through with a big chunk of work left undone by the House of Commons, which means we have to leave it to the House of Lords. There is no reason for that. We could have a few more sitting days, or we could stay here a little later in the evenings. Some of us want to do the job properly and time should be made available for that.

It is even more important to allow proper consideration on something of this magnitude. We have heard today from hon. Ladies and Gentlemen who have a range of very different views on the country they belong to, the oath they wish to swear and the allegiance they wish to

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show. We are going to the heart of what this nation is, how it expresses itself and how it represents itself at the highest level. I think that it is quite wrong to shorten debate on that. It might be that when we get to the debate we will not need much more time than the Government have allowed, but surely they can trust a free Parliament. Surely, on this issue, they can let Parliament have its way and discuss what it wishes for a reasonable length of time.

Before the Labour Government, previous Governments always reserved the right to introduce a guillotine motion if they felt that the Opposition were behaving unreasonably and not allowing sensible progress to be made. All democratic Oppositions ultimately agree that Governments have a right to get their legislation through if it has been properly advertised and argued for in general elections. Surely, on this issue, this is the time for the Deputy Prime Minister to strengthen his reputation, make his name with a blow for freedom and allow us to speak for as long as we wish.

2.13 pm

Miss Chloe Smith: I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and I am extremely respectful of the range of views—perhaps we ought to call it the coalition of views—that have been expressed this afternoon. If you will allow me, Mr Speaker, I will tackle a few of the points that have been made and attempt to keep to the point of the programme motion.

I am honour bound to say that the Bill is not being treated as if it were terrorism legislation, as a few hon. Members, and indeed some recent items in the media, have suggested. As hon. Members will know, the usual channels in the House have reflected on the timetable and taken the pragmatic decision to allow two days for debate, rather than any less time. We think that that will provide ample time for any issues to be debated before the Bill goes to the House of Lords. I note that since 2007 a number of Bills have taken a shorter amount of time for the parliamentary process, and among them is another constitutional Bill, the Sovereign Grant Act 2011, which took a shorter time in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords.

I understand from his amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is seeking to expand the scope of the discussion to include provisions relating to the religion of children of persons in the line of succession to the Crown who have married a—dare I say it—person of the Roman Catholic faith. That would of course pave the way for a number of amendments on the matter that he has tabled for consideration in Committee. Although I agree that we should have a full debate on the Bill, and I believe that we will have that in the time the business managers have allocated, I also think that it would be unhelpful, in effect, to disregard the scope of the Bill and add additional areas for debate. We need to focus on the pertinent issues and those that are in the Bill. Having said that, I will attempt to deal with a few of the substantive issues that have been raised.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): The Minister refers to the usual channels and business managers, but the fact is that there seems to be widespread concern across the House, and not expressed through the usual

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channels, about the timetable motion as drafted. We also set out in the coalition agreement that the matter would be decided by a House business committee, which is yet to be established. Would this not be an opportune moment at least to reconsider the programme motion in the light of what has been expressed by many Members across the House?

Miss Smith: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestion. I note his concern, and indeed the range of views that have been expressed this afternoon. I dispute that we have heard only one side of the debate this afternoon; I think that we have heard a range of views on the programme motion.

Ian Paisley: I thank the Minister for giving way, and indeed for the very sincere way in which she has handled the meetings that have taken place outside the Chamber. Does she agree that she is opening a royal Pandora’s box of unintended consequences that will have a significant impact across the kingdom? If she satisfies me today by saying, “The Bill does not change the rule that the monarch must not be a Roman Catholic”, unfortunately she will dissatisfy other colleagues in the House. I think that those matters have massive consequences. I ask her to address that point in her comments on the timetable and the lack of consultation that appears to have taken place.

Miss Smith: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those further points. He seeks to draw me on one of the amendments he has tabled. In brief, I assure him that my view, and that of the Government, is that there is no need for his amendment because those parts of the legislation to which it relates still stand. That leads me to an extremely important point: the Bill, as it stands, has an extremely narrow scope. Therefore, in the view of the usual channels and the Government, it is receiving the correct amount of parliamentary time for debate.

Paul Flynn: There is universal approval in the House for the ending of gender discrimination, but does the Minister not agree that the Bill, rather than getting rid of a religious discrimination, actually reinforces it by excluding people from other religions—evangelical Christians, Catholics, Jews and Muslims—from the possibility of ever becoming Head of State?

Miss Smith: One of the curious aspects of the debate is that we could take almost as long to discuss what is already wrong with the status quo, which is what the hon. Gentleman would like us to do.

I must deal with a number of points that have been made across the Chamber today. I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) for removing the male bias in primogeniture, and I think that other Members of the House fully support our view on that.

As a Conservative, I do not talk here for political correctness; I talk here for religious equality and freedom. I think it is important that the Bill will end a long-standing piece of unique discrimination. The current provisions are uniquely anti-Catholic because they bar the heir from marrying a Papist or a member of the Roman Catholic faith—whatever term one wishes to use—but I think that much of that terminology is the product of a

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different age, when the kingdom was threatened by expansionist Catholic realms elsewhere. However, those provisions do not apply to anybody else. They do not apply to atheists, Muslims, Jews, people of no religion or any combination of religions. I believe in the freedom that the Bill will open up by removing that unique piece of discrimination. The changes also do not affect in any way the place of the established Church of England.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Forgive me, but my hon. Friend cannot say that the issue does not affect the established Church of England and that the Bill ends discrimination; it is discriminatory by definition that the Church of England should be the established Church in these islands. What my—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that it is inadvertent and a consequence of the interest in the subject, but interventions are now eliding into the subject matter of the Second Reading debate. The matter with which we are concerned now is purely the allocation of time motion. The Minister is offering her view in response to the contributions to that debate. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be patient and volunteer his further thoughts ere long.

Miss Smith: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I certainly look forward to far more debate on those matters on Second Reading.

It does not need me to stand here and say that the changes do not affect the established Church because the established Church says that for itself. The Church of England has said:

“The present prohibition…is not necessary to support the requirement that the Sovereign join in communion with the Church of England. Its proposed removal is a welcome symbolic and practical measure consistent with respect for the principle of religious liberty.”

I know that the House will find that welcome.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think the Church may have missed the fact that Counsellors of State could be Catholic because they tend to have married into the Crown.

Miss Smith: I am grateful for that further erudite contribution from my hon. Friend. I suspect that might be a matter in respect of which he would wish to extend the scope of the Bill, and I shall have to return to that point.

John Hemming: Does the Minister not agree that this is a unique Bill in that it is being sent around to the nations of the Commonwealth?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. It is not actually a Bill yet; we are discussing only the allocation of time. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s point will be relevant.

John Hemming: In terms of the allocation of time, the Bill is being issued around the Commonwealth and it therefore needs extra time so that the House of Commons can do its job and make sure that it is not a value burger of a Bill that has not been properly DNA tested.

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Miss Smith: On that note, I had best return to questions of process, as is absolutely right at this stage of the afternoon’s work.

It is important to bring out in this debate the fact that the Church of England also said:

“This Government and the previous Government have consulted closely with senior Church of England figures throughout the long process which has led up to the introduction of this Bill.”

The Bishop of Blackburn has said that the reforms

“of the rules of royal succession are sensible and timely.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 May 2012; Vol. 737, c. 168.]

I wish to raise those points because they draw us right back to the notion that we now have an opportunity to make the change for modern times. The process that has allowed us to do that, with consultation, is backing us. The royal household, the Church of England and the Catholic Church have all been kept informed at every stage. As right hon. and hon. Members know, the scope of the Bill has been tightly drawn to give effect to the specific goals agreed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government.

I invite my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset to withdraw his amendment and I commend the allocation of time motion to the House.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I shall now put the question on the amendment.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was going to ask whether, by leave of the House, I might withdraw the amendment. I have listened carefully to the debate. I am sorry to say that whenever Front Benchers on both sides agree one is likely to lose in a Division, although it usually indicates that the House is going to vote erroneously; there is nothing more dangerous than when Front Benchers on both sides agree.

I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, because had we come to my second amendment, you would have been able to put the question, “2(b) or not 2(b)?” Sadly, if I am granted leave to withdraw, you will not be able to put it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put and agreed to.


That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Succession to the Crown Bill—


1.–(1) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee, any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be completed in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.

(2) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee shall be completed at today’s sitting.

(3) Proceedings on Second Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

(4) Proceedings in Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion six hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

(5) Any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be completed on the second day.

(6) Any proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the second day.

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(7) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

2. When the Bill has been read a second time—

(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

3. On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1, the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others) in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply— (a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

5. On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

6. If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph 4(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.

7. If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph 4(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.

Consideration of Lords Amendments

8.–(1) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(2) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (1) shall thereupon be resumed.

9.–(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 8.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair.

(3) If that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment the Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any further Amendments to the Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment.

(6) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees to all the remaining Lords Amendments.

(7) As soon as the House has—

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(a) agreed or disagreed to a Lords Amendment; or

(b) disposed of an Amendment relevant to a Lords Amendment which has been disagreed to, the Speaker shall put forthwith a single Question on any Amendments that are moved by a Minister of the Crown and are relevant to the Lords Amendment.

Subsequent stages

10.–(1) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(2) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (1) shall thereupon be resumed.

11.–(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 10.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair.

(3) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

Reasons Committee

12.–(1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the appointment of its Chair.

(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.

(3) Proceedings in the Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.

(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with sub-paragraph (3), the Chair shall—

(a) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair, and

(b) then put forthwith successively Questions on motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.

(5) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.


13. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

14.–(1) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

15. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

16.–(1) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to recommit the Bill.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

17.–(1) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

18. The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

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19.–(1) This paragraph applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(2) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

20. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

21.–(1) Any private business which has been set down for consideration at 7.00 pm, 4.00 pm or 2.00 pm (as the case may be) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day.

(2) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before the moment of interruption, for a period equal to the time elapsing between 7.00 pm, 4.00 pm or 2.00 pm (as the case may be) and the conclusion of those proceedings.

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Succession to the Crown Bill

Second Reading

2.25 pm

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill does three specific things. First, it ends the system of male-preference primogeniture so that, in the royal succession, older sisters will no longer be overtaken by their younger brothers. Secondly, it removes the law that says that anyone who marries a Roman Catholic automatically loses their place in the line, a legal barrier that applies to Catholics and only to Catholics—no other faith. Thirdly, it replaces the Royal Marriages Act 1772.

Under the 1772 Act, any descendent of George II must seek the reigning monarch’s consent before marrying, without which their marriage is void. That law, passed 240 years ago, is clearly now unworkable. George II’s descendants number in their hundreds. Many will be unaware of that arcane requirement and many will have only a tenuous link to the royal family.

The Bill proposes that the monarch need consent only to the marriages of the first six individuals in the line of succession, without which consent they would lose their place.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I have heard what the Deputy Prime Minister has said about the previous situation, but surely the requirement of the monarch’s permission for those first six individuals is arcane in this day and age.

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is not arcane; it is a pragmatic judgment. The Bill retains the requirement for permission from the monarch for those wishing to marry who are in the immediate line of succession. It seeks to confine what had become a sprawling requirement to a much more limited and pragmatic one.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I simply do not understand why the monarch would want to retain the right to forbid somebody to marry and to declare their marriage null and void because consent was not granted. On what basis would they refuse to grant consent—because someone involved was illegitimate, not wealthy enough, a commoner or an actress? Those are reasons that have previously been used for not consenting.

The Deputy Prime Minister: That, of course, is a matter for the monarch. It is a power of the monarch’s that has not been brought into that much dispute for a prolonged period. We had a choice: we could either remove it altogether or trim it radically to the six individuals in the immediate line of succession.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Will the Deputy Prime Minister give way?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: I would like to make progress, but of course I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I wonder whether the Deputy Prime Minister is aware that the six people are being brought back into the provisions of the Royal Marriages Act. The exemption in the Act states:

“other than the issue of princesses who have married, or may hereafter marry, into foreign families”.

The marriage of Louisa, daughter of George II, from whom Princess Alexandra was directly descended, excludes the Prince of Wales, all his children and all their future children from the provisions of the Royal Marriages Act. Bringing the six people in will, in a novel way, include them in the provisions of an outdated Act.

The Deputy Prime Minister: As a proficient historian, the hon. Gentleman will know that the original Act was passed because of George III’s urgent wish to control the marriage of some of his own children. That set a precedent which has remained on the statute book for a long period. We are retaining the right of the monarch to confer that permission, but only to those in the immediate line of succession; the hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is different from what preceded it. Having been in consultation with the royal household over a prolonged period, we feel that that strikes the right balance.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Will the Deputy Prime Minister give way?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I would like to make some progress, but okay.

Paul Flynn: Presumably, the Deputy Prime Minister, knows that a Member of this House, who is 246th in the line of succession to the throne, was previously covered by this provision; I will check with him as to whether he asked permission to marry. We heard recently that certain Bills have been blocked in this House, including Tam Dalyell’s 1999 Bill about giving the House, rather than the monarchy, the decision on whether to declare war. We have been told that the monarchy, under instructions from Prime Ministers, has acted to make such changes. Was the royal family involved in producing the figure of six?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I said, I accept that there is a certain arbitrariness about the figure of six; it could be seven or five. The principle to limit the powers of the monarch to grant permission to marry to those who are in the immediate line of succession seemed to us to be the right balance to strike, but I accept that perfectly valid arguments of principle could be made otherwise. It is, however, a very dramatic change—pragmatic, but dramatic none the less—from the precedent that has been set from the days of George III.

Chris Bryant rose

The Deputy Prime Minister: I really want to make progress now.

The reform that limits permission to the six who are in line to the throne is made for practical reasons; the

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other two reforms are more about our values. The current rules of succession belong to a bygone era; they reflect old prejudices and old fears. Today we do not support laws that discriminate on either religious or gender grounds. They have no place in modern Britain, and certainly not in our monarchy—an institution central to our constitution, to the Commonwealth, and to our national identity too. With the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge expecting a baby and our having just celebrated our Queen’s 60-year reign, this Bill is timely as well as popular. It is also straightforward and enjoys support across the House, which, as I should know, is a rare thing in constitutional reform issues.

I will come to the Catholic provisions in a few moments, because I am aware that, as we have already heard, some hon. Members have concerns about their implications. On female succession, the real question that we need to ask is why it has taken us so long. This is a nation that prides itself on pioneering equality between the sexes: a nation of great Queens such as Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II. A woman can, and has, been Head of the UK Government, yet still on our statute books, with Parliament’s official backing, we have succession laws based on the supposed superiority of men. That anachronism is out of step with our society, it sends the wrong message to the rest of the world, and it is time for the rules to change.

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): As the Member of Parliament for Wyre and Preston North, I represent huge tracts of Duchy of Lancaster land. Henry IV set up the Lancastrian inheritance separately from the Crown and its entities to follow through the male heirs, except where the monarch was a female. Under that separate arrangement for passing on the private possessions of the Duke of Lancaster, inheritance currently remains with the male heir where a male is a child of a monarch. Therefore, if the Queen were to have both a boy and a girl, would we not be in danger of splitting an inheritance so that the changes ensured that the female inherited the position of monarch but the title of Duke of Lancaster went to the son?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Before the Deputy Prime Minister answers, may I say that we need shorter interventions? I hope that that can be taken on board.

The Deputy Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, this Bill deals only with the succession to the throne and not with issues relating to the succession of hereditary titles. We can have a perfectly valid separate argument about that, but it is not within the very narrow scope of this Bill, all the reasons for which have been explained by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith).

Mr Wallace: I am not sure that my right hon. Friend understands. This measure, without such clarity, will disinherit the monarch of the lands that the monarch holds in the title of Duke of Lancaster, given that that is a separate division from the Crown.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Let me make it clear that this is about the succession to the Crown and nothing else. The issues of succession to hereditary titles can be dealt with separately if this House so wishes.

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Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con) rose

Jacob Rees-Mogg rose

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have taken many interventions and will continue to do so, but I would like to make a little progress.

The Bill builds on the endeavours of the previous Government, who helped to lay the foundations for reform with the Commonwealth realms—

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Will the Deputy Prime Minister give way?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I really would like to make progress on this point. [Hon. Members: “Give way!”] I give way.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: This is crucial, because what the Deputy Prime Minister says now could be taken in the law courts as giving interpretation to the law. Has he said that under the provisions of this Bill, the Duchy of Lancaster would be separated from the Crown for the first time since the reign of Henry IV?

The Deputy Prime Minister: No, I did not say that. I said that this Bill deals only with succession to the Crown and that succession to all other titles can be dealt with separately. For clarity’s purpose, my hon. Friend will remember that the Sovereign Grant Act—

Mr Turner: Will the Deputy Prime Minister give way?

The Deputy Prime Minister: May I answer the question? The Sovereign Grant Act 2010 makes a very important change that touches on the succession to the Crown as far as the Duchy of Cornwall is concerned. As the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) may know, the convention is that the male heir to the throne has the title of Duchy of Cornwall conferred on him, but a female heir to the throne does not. The Bill does not change that situation, but the provisions of the Sovereign Grant Act mean that the financial support provided via the Duchy of Cornwall can, in future, be provided to female heirs to the throne as well. To that extent, there is a link between this very tightly circumscribed Bill and the provisions of the Sovereign Grant Act.

The drafting of the Bill has been a long and careful process. I pay special tribute to Rebecca Kitteridge, New Zealand’s Cabinet Secretary, for her extraordinary work in making sure that these proposals can be effected across the Commonwealth realms. Agreeing constitutional change for 16 states, each with its own Government and legislature, is clearly a challenge. From the point at which the realms backed the reforms in principle in 2011, it took one year and two months to get full agreement in writing from everyone. In a phenomenal coincidence—one that I know is hard to believe—we received the final consent just hours before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced that they are expecting a baby.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con) rose

The Deputy Prime Minister: I will make a little more progress and then give way.

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The palace has, of course, been actively involved in the process from the beginning, and both the Church of England and the Catholic Church have been kept informed throughout.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes.

Sir Tony Baldry: I am very grateful. There have been misinformed suggestions in some newspapers that the Church of England is in some way opposed to this Bill. May I make it clear and put it on the record that the Church of England has absolutely no objection to it whatsoever?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record. Later in my remarks I will repeat verbatim the form that that support from the Church of England took.

Sir Gerald Howarth: On the Commonwealth, the Deputy Prime Minister said that the 16 realms had given their approval just prior to the announcement of the royal pregnancy. However, that approval was still subject, was it not, to parliamentary endorsement in each of those countries? Therefore, will the Bill come into effect only once the relevant legislation has been enacted in all those countries? If so, when does he expect that that might happen?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My understanding is that it needs to come into force in all the realms. Interestingly, two of the realms, Jamaica and Papua New Guinea, do not, for their own reasons, need to go through the full legislative process. That is partly why we are so keen to keep the precision of the terms of the Bill and the narrowness of its scope, such that it can be easily adopted and digested under all the different parliamentary and legislative conventions that exist in the 16 Commonwealth realms. We now have a very short Bill of five clauses and a schedule. I urge the House to bear it in mind that, as I have explained, the Bill must be kept narrow in order to be adopted across all 16 Commonwealth realms.

I have heard it suggested that we should use the Bill to tackle the gender bias in hereditary titles whereby titles and the benefits that come with them leapfrog eldest daughters and are handed down to younger sons, or can be lost entirely when there is no male heir. Personally, I am sympathetic to that reform and can see why this seems like the natural time to do it, but, for purely practical reasons, it cannot and will not be done in this Bill. Nor can we can use the Bill to mop up any other constitutional odds and ends. Put simply, it cannot be broadened to include UK-specific reforms, because they are not relevant to the realms of the Commonwealth.

Turning to the all-important so-called Catholic question, the coalition Government are seeking to remove the current ban on heirs to the throne marrying Catholics; or, as the current legislation says, rather insultingly, depending on one’s point of view, from “marrying a Papist”. That law is a reflection of the times in which it was written. It followed nearly two centuries of religious strife within England, Scotland and Ireland; the threat

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of conflict with Louis XIV’s France and other Catholic powers; and tension with Rome. It was an era when legal defences seemed vital against a dangerous threat from abroad.

That does not just apply to the royal accession—in the 40 years after the Glorious Revolution a whole range of restrictions were put in place. Catholics could not vote, they were excluded from all professions and public offices and they could not go to university, could not teach, could not be the guardian of a child, could not buy land with a lease of more than 31 years and could not own a horse worth more than £5. Edmund Burke called the laws

“well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people…as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

Many of the laws were repealed relatively quickly. The ban on owning land was repealed in 1778 and that on voting and serving in the legal profession in 1793. By the time the ban on Catholics from serving in this House as MPs and from serving as judges was lifted in 1829, most of the main restrictions were gone.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Do not worry, I am not going to say, “Ah, those halcyon days.” If, as the Deputy Prime Minister’s colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary has rightly said, the Bill will not rule that the monarch must not be a Roman Catholic, would it not for the sake of clarity be beneficial to include that in the Bill?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Our judgment is that that is not necessary and that the Bill’s intent is entirely clear.

To bring us right up to date—given that the hon. Gentleman referred to yesteryear—it was only in November 1995 that Her Majesty the Queen visited Westminster cathedral, which was the first time a reigning monarch had set foot inside a Catholic church since Queen Mary. That was a watershed moment in relations between the British state and its millions of loyal, patriotic Catholic citizens. Now it falls to us to take a step further in this journey by ridding ourselves of the arcane ban on Catholics marrying the monarch, and this Bill does exactly that.

I know that some hon. Members have concerns—we have heard them today—about potential unintended consequences of the reform. One concern, for example, is that if a monarch married a Catholic their heir would have to be brought up in the Catholic faith, and that, on becoming King or Queen, they would then assume their role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, which would, in turn, lead to the disestablishment of the state Church. If we followed that logic, however, we should be introducing bans on marriage to members of every other faith and, indeed, people with no faith. Right now the monarch can marry a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu or an atheist, yet no one is alleging today that we are teetering on the edge of a constitutional crisis.

The Catholic Church does not have any blanket rule dictating that all children in mixed marriages must be brought up as Catholics. Indeed, if we look at the current royal family, we see that Prince Michael of Kent is an Anglican, his wife a Catholic and their heirs, Lord Frederick and Lady Gabriella Windsor, are Anglican and retain their places in line to the throne.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg: I refer the Deputy Prime Minister to canon 1125 of the Catholic Church, which states clearly that a party to a mixed marriage must make his or her best efforts to bring up the children in the Catholic faith. Of course, some Catholics fail, but that does not mean that there is not a rule of the Catholic Church—there is.

The Deputy Prime Minister: If I understand it correctly, the precise wording—the hon. Gentleman may be able to correct me—is “best endeavours”. Equally, however, the Catholic Church has been clear that Bishops are free to decide, which they do on an ongoing basis, to allow a married couple—one a Catholic and the other of another faith—to bring up their children in a faith other than the Catholic faith.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The Deputy Prime Minister is absolutely right. Canon 1124 allows for the Bishop to give permission for a mixed marriage, subject to canon 1125, which is the requirement for best efforts to be made to bring the children up as Catholic. Of course, it is open to the Government to ask the Papacy, via the Papal Nuncio, for a papal indult to get around that for royal marriages. I wonder whether that has been done.

The Deputy Prime Minister: It might be worth reading out the words of the Archbishop of Westminster, who said when it was announced that we would proceed with this Bill:

“I welcome the decision of Her Majesty's Government to give heirs to the throne the freedom to marry a Catholic”.

He also said, crucially, that

“I fully recognise the importance of the position of the Established Church in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today.”

I do not think that anyone has sought, in any such pronouncements, to highlight the risks that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted today.

Several hon. Members rose

The Deputy Prime Minister: I want to make progress and quote a statement by the Church of England itself, in a briefing issued to MPs last week. It said:

“The present prohibition on anyone remaining in the line of succession or succeeding to the Crown as a result of marrying a Roman Catholic is not necessary to support the requirement that the Sovereign join in communion with the Church of England. Its proposed removal is a welcome symbolic and practical measure consistent with respect for the principle of religious liberty. It reflects the sea change in ecumenical relations over recent decades.”

I have, therefore, quoted statements from both the Catholic Church and the Church of England and I hope they will provide ample comfort to those who are concerned.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I support the position that my right hon. Friend is taking and I am worried by the argument of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that, somehow, the United Kingdom Government and the monarchy would have to ask the permission of the Papacy, which would, in itself, be a deprivation of religious freedom. These are difficult decisions, but what my right hon. Friend is doing is surely not putting us in that situation.

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The Deputy Prime Minister: I want to be clear that there is absolutely no prospect of our entering into discussions with the Vatican in order to bring this Bill into effect.

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): Is it not reasonable to assume, as my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in Government appear to have assumed in the way in which they have drafted the Bill, that on attaining adulthood, an heir to the throne, regardless of the religious affiliation of his or her mother or father, could put his or her duty as the future monarch of our country ahead of any religious faith and decide for him or herself to take a position that would be constitutionally acceptable and protect the monarchy?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is a practical and perfectly reasonable assumption to make. I would highlight the fact, however, that under the current provisions, even if we did not proceed with the Bill, an heir to the throne could marry someone of the Hindu faith and yet decide, not least because they would be acutely aware of their place and duty in the line of succession to the throne, that their children, if they had any, were to be brought up in the Anglican faith. That assumption acts as a bedrock underneath the status quo. We are only extrapolating that by adding the Catholic faith to all the other faiths that can be involved in a marriage to heirs to the throne.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister for giving way—he is being very generous. Does he believe that the monarch would legally be able to refuse consent to a marriage merely on the basis of somebody marrying a Roman Catholic? There is no provision that says what the monarch must bear in mind and, indeed, the old legislation, which we are repealing, makes it clear that it is the monarch with the Privy Council who makes the decision, whereas in this Bill it is just the monarch on their own.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we are not seeking to specify in legislation the terms in which the monarch provides that consent. We are certainly not specifying that that should be done according to the faith of the person who is marrying an heir to the throne.

In matters of constitutional significance, we should of course always proceed with care. Yes, we must always think through the potential knock-on effects of reform, but we also need to move with the times. Discrimination is discrimination wherever we find it, and just as we respect our traditions and cherish our monarchy, the House must never tolerate prejudice in our laws. Equality is, after all, a great British tradition too. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.50 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): The Opposition strongly support the Bill. The Labour Government, under the premiership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), began the work on the changes that we see in it. I am pleased to say that our manifesto for the 2010 general election stated:

“Our constitutional monarchy is the source of deep pride and strength for our country…there is a case”—

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I believe it to be a strong case—

“for reform of the laws concerning marriage to Roman Catholics and the primacy of male members of the Royal family.”

Those two points are at the heart of the Bill. As the Deputy Prime Minister explained, marrying a Roman Catholic will no longer prevent a person from becoming or remaining monarch, and the Bill will end discrimination in determining succession so that a younger son cannot have precedence over an elder daughter in the line of succession to the throne.

With regard to the first issue, it is surely right that the current exclusion of individuals who marry Catholics be brought to an end, especially as no other discrimination of that kind is on the statute book. The prohibition dates back to the Glorious Revolution, the 1688-89 Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement 1700. Whatever the contemporary justification for those measures, in this day and age there can be no justification for maintaining the restriction on the religion of the spouse of a person in the line of succession. Such an anachronism is an injustice and ought to have no place in a modern country with a constitutional monarchy.

We are equally committed to ending the male primogeniture rule. It cannot be justified that individuals are discriminated against because of their gender, and that basic principle of equality is firmly established in most recent legislation. Modifying the succession rule will bring the British monarchy into a position similar to that of most other European monarchies—I hope that Members will consider that to be an argument in favour of the change. Hon. Members will note that gender equality in succession laws was achieved in Sweden in 1980, the Netherlands in 1983 and Norway and Belgium in the early 1990s. It was introduced in Denmark in 2006 and is anticipated before too long in Spain. The change is in tune with enlightened attitudes in many other European countries as well as here in the United Kingdom.

As we know, there have been many calls for gender equality in the royal succession over the years. Noble Lords and hon. Members have presented numerous Bills on the subject, and I refer in particular to those tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) in 2011, and before him by a previous Member for Battersea, now Lord Dubs. The latter Bill went further than the former, but many of the sentiments in those private Members’ Bills have now found voice in this Bill. I add that there has been extensive and positive consultation on it with the Opposition as well as with interested parties.

Mr MacNeil: In the light of the hon. Gentleman’s words, perhaps he could tell us why, in 2004, when an attempt was made in the Lords to reform the succession, the Labour Government did all in their power to block it.

Wayne David: That is an interesting point, and I am sure there was a very good reason, but I do not think it is germane to our discussion today.

There has been extensive consultation on the Bill, and I note the consent of the Queen, as expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister at the start of the debate.

There is a third measure in the Bill that needs to be commented on. Although the Prime Minister did not refer to it in his statement to the Commonwealth Heads

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of Government meeting in Perth on 28 October 2011, it was referred to in his invitation to the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth, and the Government have recognised the need for the change. I refer to the requirement for all the descendants of George II to seek permission from the monarch to marry. In place of that, the Bill proposes a more limited requirement for the monarch to agree to the marriages of a specific number of individuals in the line of succession. That is surely a sensible proposal.

Paul Flynn: Does my hon. Friend really regard it as a sensible proposal? What percentage of our constituents does he think would accept an absolute prohibition from a relative on marrying the person of their choice?

Wayne David: We are talking about the monarch of the United Kingdom, not everybody else in the country. We have to acknowledge that we have a constitutional monarchy that is quite unique.

The origins of the current stipulation are in ancient common law, whereby the monarch has a duty and right of care relating to the upbringing of his or her close relatives. However, that was taken significantly further by the Royal Marriages Act 1772. Although that statute was promoted by George III’s antagonism towards the marriage of his two brothers to women whom he saw as unacceptable, it was drafted in such a way that it went much further than was necessary to respond to his immediate concerns. Indeed, the ramifications of that law mean that today literally hundreds of individuals are obliged to go through a formal legal process involving the monarch and the Privy Council to have their marriages approved. The Bill introduces a change so that any future prohibitions are of eligibility to the line of succession rather than of the marriage.

I do not question the proposed change, but I would nevertheless welcome clarification from the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), of why royal consent is now to be required for the first six people in line to the throne. I heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that it is a pragmatic move, but there has to be some rationale behind it. The constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor has suggested that the figure might be five, and others have suggested larger or smaller numbers. Perhaps the Minister could clarify why six has been the number chosen.

Chris Bryant: What does my hon. Friend think would happen to somebody who was No. 7 in line and then suddenly became No. 6?

Wayne David: That is an interesting hypothetical question, and I would certainly welcome the Minister’s response, as it is the Government who have put forward the figure of six.

Mrs Laing: Is it not the case that if somebody is in close proximity to the throne but wishes to contract a marriage with a member of the Catholic faith, or in future wishes to contract a marriage of which the monarch would not approve, they have every freedom to renounce their entitlement to the throne and remove themselves from the list of the six people in question?

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Wayne David: I suppose it would be up to the individual to decide to do that, but we are talking not about the actions of an individual in certain circumstances but about what the law requires them to do.

I referred to the Commonwealth. We are pleased that the Government have received final agreement in writing from the other 15 Commonwealth realms. The agreement relates to the three elements of the Bill. We understand that to all intents and purposes, Parliament cannot change the Bill substantially, because if there were to be significant amendment the new text would have to be agreed by each Commonwealth realm. That would inevitably cause significant delay.

We are pleased that the Government have consulted the Opposition, and I thank the Minister for her courtesy. We have therefore agreed to the Government’s wish to expedite the legislative process. However, they have wisely recognised the mood of the House as expressed at the last Deputy Prime Minister’s questions and granted two days for the consideration of the Bill rather than one.

Ian Paisley: Is the hon. Gentleman asking the House to believe that faith and religion are now to become completely and totally disposable when it becomes convenient? If a future heir to the throne is raised in a faith different from that of Anglican, when it comes to the choice of retaining something that they believe in their heart, or having the prize of the throne, they could dispose of their faith. That is essentially what we are asking the nation to believe: in secularism, to a degree—that one’s faith no longer really matters.

Wayne David: With all due respect, I do not think that is the case. The Bill strikes a balance between modernity, which we accept we need to acknowledge, and recognising that the Church of England is central to the life of this country and its monarchy. I think a good balance has been struck and I am sure that some of the suggested unintended consequences of the Bill will be considered during our deliberations.

Paul Flynn: When my hon. Friend says “this country”, I presume he means England. As he knows, in the country where he and I live, the Church has been disestablished for 90 years, and happily so.

Wayne David: Disestablishment is, of course, a reality as both my hon. Friend and I readily acknowledge. We must recognise that the monarch has a different relationship with the Church of England and the Church in Wales, and my hon. Friend is right to point out that distinction.

I mentioned unintended consequences. Hon. Members have referred to the Duchy of Cornwall, but it seems to me that the letters patent would need to be altered if the duchy were to be automatically transferred to a female heir to the throne. Otherwise, it has been suggested that the heir apparent could be deprived of the source of revenue necessary to fulfil her responsibilities. I suspect that one or two hon. Members might welcome that, but many more would be concerned. I heard what the Deputy Prime Minister said, but I refer him to the deliberations of the Lords Constitution Committee which referred to that as a specific concern.

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Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I did not intervene on my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on this issue so I will do so now. There are two possible options for the Duchy of Cornwall. One is that it is held by the Crown but does not entirely revert to it, and the revenue is passed on to a female heir. The second is that, as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, we somehow amend the original charters that established the duchy to allow the heir to hold it in their own right. That would, I think, be a more satisfactory solution given the other constitutional responsibilities of the Duke of Cornwall with regard to the constituency I represent.

Wayne David: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is correct, but if we are to have a package that is watertight and constitutionally thought through, consequences of that type should be addressed as a matter of importance.

A number of Members have referred to the important issue of the relationship between Church and state. According to the Bill, the heir to the throne would now be able to marry a Roman Catholic. It has been suggested that that has implications for the religious upbringing of a royal heir, which might prevent them from being in communion with the Church of England, and then from acceding to the throne. I have been reassured, however, as has the Deputy Prime Minister, that both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England have expressed confidence in the process that has been outlined.

As the Deputy Prime Minister said, Mr Richard Chapman, the Church of England’s secretary for parliamentary affairs, has written to Members with reference to the removal of the prohibition on the heir from marrying a Catholic, and it is worth quoting him again because it is of enormous significance. He said it is

“a welcome symbolic and practical measure, consistent with respect for the principle of religious liberty. It reflects the sea change in ecumenical relations over recent decades.”

That is extremely important and I hope it will reassure those Members who have expressed concerns.

Mr Andrew Turner: It seems to me that we are in danger of considering the issues that have to be covered, such as those relating to the Duchy of Cornwall, after legislating rather than before. That is the problem. We are hoping that things will be done properly but we cannot guarantee that.

Wayne David: Of course we cannot guarantee it, but I have faith in the democratic process and the co-operation that exists across the House, and that these serious issues will be addressed properly. It is important that such matters are considered sensibly here as well as in the other place. I am sure that discussions will take place, and I hope that progress will be indicated before the Bill finishes its parliamentary passage.

Let me refer to an issue that is, in some ways, particular to the people of Wales: the title of Princess of Wales. Since 1301 the eldest male heir has usually been invested with the title of Prince of Wales, and as I understand it, that position is bestowed at the discretion of the monarch. Edward II did not invest his eldest son, the future Edward III, with the title, but investiture later became custom and practice. The position confers no automatic rights or responsibilities, but it follows that if there is to

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be no gender discrimination in the royal succession, consideration ought to be given to the title of Princess of Wales being given to a female heir apparent.

Paul Flynn: My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. He will recall from history that the title of Prince of Wales was the result of a promise that the people of Wales would have a King who could not speak a word of English. He could not speak a word of any language, including a word of Welsh. Is it sensible, with the pride of Wales at heart, to continue to perpetuate that royal confidence trick?

Wayne David: My reading of history is that when Llywelyn was defeated by Edward I, a promise was indeed made. The King of England at that time could not, of course, speak Welsh, but he could not speak English either. He spoke Norman French. It is important to make that point when considering such issues because it is easy for some people to translate modern ideas of nationality into mediaeval situations. It is important that the historical reality of the United Kingdom is recognised, and there is a specific niche for Wales with regard to the Prince of Wales, and hopefully, in future, for the Princess of Wales. If it were appropriate to have a Princess of Wales I hope that people in Wales would welcome such a development, and I ask the Minister whether she would welcome such a move.

The Bill is small yet has significant constitutional implications. It reinforces and extends a process of modernisation for our constitutional monarchy that has been under way for some time. The people of this country are, quite rightly, very supportive of the royal family and recognise that not only is the monarchy an important part of our nation’s heritage, it is also a vital element in defining the identity of Britain in the 21st century. The changes in this Bill will help to ensure that the monarchy continues to be an essential part of Britain’s future.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are going to introduce a 10-minute limit on speeches. It would be helpful if Members do not take up all that time or we will have to introduce a further cut to the time limit.

3.9 pm

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): I rise not to arrest the regrettably heady speed of the passage of the Bill, but to join my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg)—he made a beautiful speech and would have found support in the Lobby had he pressed his amendments to a Division—and to ensure that the Government leave the House in no doubt about the effects of the Bill as they tinker away out of consideration of, we can assume, political correctness on the one hand and of the European convention on human rights on the other.

I am afraid that the genesis of the Bill is the “good wheeze” school of government. The doctrine is much in fashion, but it does not receive nearly rigorous or formidable enough scrutiny from the House. Although the proposals were a long time in gestation, they are not easy to construe, their consequences are not clear, and they have not become in any way current in normal public

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understanding, which they should have done, because the Bill touches on British history and tradition but succumbs to the passing enthusiasms of the 21st century. Above all, the proposals interfere with statutes that have slept for more than 300 years, and a common law rule of far greater antiquity. So seriously were these matters taken at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference that Ms Gillard was reported to have said to our Prime Minister on the day the measure was agreed, “Cheer up, Dave. It’s a great day for Sheilas everywhere.”

Therefore, Parliament is more than usually obliged to seek from the Government a clear understanding of what is involved, because we touch today on customs and traditions that go back far beyond the great parliamentary conflicts of the 17th century and will change a system that has stood this extraordinary country in great stead down the generations. For more than 1,000 years, except for the 11 years of the Cromwellian interregnum, England has never been without a sovereign. For 1,000 years, the Crown has been the key to our nationhood and has served to implant down the generations the habit of feeling and acting together in national matters. The Crown has proved to be a most effective means for preserving and strengthening the country’s cohesion and stability. It is and always has been the unifying principle that unites the national family.

When an English sovereign succeeds to the throne, they inherit 1,000 years of unbroken monarchical heritage. These are not, therefore, matters to be treated lightly, nor ones to be trifled with, and, not surprisingly, there has therefore been some confusion about what the Bill is and is not about. The Government, as always, but particularly when dealing with sometimes ill-thought-out constitutional matters, must be aware of the unwanted, unintended consequences that often flow from tinkering with such legislation. They could damage the crucial relationship between Church and state as well as peerage law, and possibly interfere with accepted conventions and laws reaching back down the times.

Consequent to the Bill—this is why my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset was completely right to ask for the House to have more time to deal with the matter—a large number of Acts will require the House’s attention and amendment, including the Bill of Rights 1689; the Act of Settlement 1701; the Union with Scotland Act 1706; the Coronation Oath Act 1688; Princess Sophia’s Precedence Act 1711; the Royal Marriages Act 1772; the Union with Ireland Act 1800; the Accession Declaration Act 1910; and the Regency Act 1937. Those are not things to be consigned to the dustbin of history at the flick of a pen; they require the detailed attention of the House and respect for the part they have played in the architecture of the constitution of this country, which is the guarantee of stability in difficult times.

Although I support the proposals both to make royal primogeniture gender blind—England, after all, has been extremely lucky with its Queens—and to restrict the reach and impact of royal approval for marriage of potential heirs, I should like to ask the Government two important questions, the first of which arises from the fact that there is at least a presumption, if not an obligation, that children in mixed Catholic marriages should be brought up in the Catholic faith. Will the Government assure this House that, in removing the Catholic marriage disqualification, the Bill in no way makes it more likely that a Catholic will become eligible

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to succeed to the throne, and explain why? If, for example, a young and popular heir is brought up as a Catholic, would it not in practice, never mind the existing law, be difficult to stand in the way of their succeeding?

Secondly, anticipating the very considerable and entirely understandable trouble that my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will have in their lordships’ House, where their lordships will do what they do so well, can this House be assured that the proposed changes to the primogeniture rule for royal succession do not in any way pre-empt whether the same changes should apply to the separate rules for the descent of hereditary titles of honour?

I repeat that these are not matters to be treated lightly. They are very serious and touch on the architecture of the foundation of the law and settlement in this country. I will support the Government on Second Reading, but I urge them to explain in considerable detail—in more detail—what is involved and what consequential changes to other legislation are required as a result of the Bill.

3.16 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the voice of British conservatism. It seems extraordinary that a Member of this House should refer to the equal treatment of women as one of the House’s passing enthusiasms. That is one of the great changes that have taken place in our generation. It is a joy to see the increased number of women who sit in the House, and the wider mixture of races, colours and creeds.

There is no need for the Bill to be rushed through. If the date were removed from the Bill, we would have years to consider it. There is no question that the royal child will be ready to take the throne for many decades. We have all that time in which to create a Bill that is reasonable, fair and sustainable for the decades to come.

I have the great honour to represent the constituency where the last riot designed to set up a republic took place. In 1839 in the streets of Newport, a group of Chartists arranged to charge a place where they thought a Chartist prisoner was being held. They then intended to stop the post, which was to be a signal to the rest of the country that they intended to set up a republic. At the time, the country was not one to which the description given by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) could be applied, as it was a country of great deprivation, great injustice and terrible poverty.

The Chartists were protesting against the system as it was at the time, under a monarchy. That is not to say that monarchy is necessarily a bad system, but we cannot ignore the years in which our monarchs, many of whom did not speak English, behaved as tyrants. For some years now, there has been a division between the Commons and the monarchy, symbolised in the House’s tradition of slamming the door on the monarch’s representative when he comes to the House to deliver the summons to hear her speak. This is crucial to us: it is part of our democracy and character.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the part of our history of which we in this democratic Chamber should be most proud is the story of those who worked to establish socialist reforms. What is special about our democracy and admired throughout the world is the

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fact that we have free speech, we have a welfare state, and we have a sense of fairness and fair play—but all those reforms were hard-won.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): The hon. Gentleman just asked what is special about our monarchy. One answer, perhaps, is that we do not tinker with it.

Paul Flynn: We are tinkering with it today. It must be a matter of some concern, but we are tinkering with it. Pandora’s box is open now, and having tinkered with one part of it, we can tinker with other parts of it.

Mr MacNeil: Many Acts, including and especially the 1701 Act of Settlement, are nothing other than tinkering.

Paul Flynn: Indeed, absolutely. They were based on the prejudices of the past. To look at our history, we can go through the length of this building and see representations of royalty in portraits, coats or arms and statues—there must be at least a thousand—but where would we look to find mementos of the work of the Chartists, the Levellers or the suffragettes? There are precious few, yet they, not royalty, were the ones who contributed to the development of our democracy.

Chris Bryant: I have been wondering about this tinkering business that we heard about from the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). Can my hon. Friend point out to that hon. Gentleman that Richard II, Edward II, Richard III, Henry VI, Edward IV and Edward VIII—at least; I have left several out, no doubt—were removed expressly by or through the intervention of Parliament. It is a long-established tradition that the succession is a matter for Parliament.

Paul Flynn: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) is the victim of a romantic delusion that history does not support. We should take pride in the traditions of this House.

What we have before us is a piece of rushed legislation, and we all know legislation introduced in haste usually turns out to be bad legislation. Take the idea that we modernise the system by retaining in it the right for a relative to determine that people should not be allowed to marry the person they love. That is not modern; it is another anachronism from the distant past, but we are retaining it and allowing the monarch to have absolute power over the love lives of six relatives. That seems extraordinary. Who put that in? Who decided that that was a good idea?

One problem with the Bill is its narrowness, which means that we cannot discuss the interesting amendments that have been tabled, including one I mentioned briefly earlier that would allow the country a choice. We are in the position, when we look to the next Head of State, of being infantilised by our own Ministers. We are told that certain letters cannot be published because if they were they would imperil the status of the next monarch. Well, if they do, we should hear about that. If there is a doubt in those letters, why on earth can we not, as the elected representatives of the people, have those letters

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published? Yet the Government recently decided, in spite of a court ruling and a freedom of information ruling, that those letters from the heir to the throne should remain absolutely secret, because if we saw them we might decide that perhaps he is not the right person to be on the throne. What can the country do?

We are still enshrining the mediaeval idea that it is the son—now the daughter, which is a slight improvement—who will inherit, but why not other members of the family? Would not the country like a choice? In a world of referendums and choice, it would be sensible for us to consider a Bill that would allow the country to decide who will have the vital role of Head of State, looking at the situation in about 20 years’ time, when all sorts of factors will be in play. Should it be the heir? Should it be another member of the royal family? Or should it be citizen A. N. Other? I believe that the country might like the choice.

I am very grateful for the chance to speak in this debate. Like all Members of the House of Commons, I think, I will support the Bill, but I believe we have to bear in mind the points that have been made. On religious grounds, the Bill strengthens the prejudice of the past by not allowing all citizens the chance to become monarch. An amendment was tabled to try to future-proof the measure, saying that in the future there might be an inheritor to the throne who decides on a same-sex marriage. What would the situation be then? Would the progeny of that marriage, either by adoption or artificial insemination, be next in line? One could see advantages in bringing new blood into the royal line, which we have seen successfully recently.

There are many aspects to the law of succession that we need to consider. This is not a full modernisation; it is a tinkering. I believe that pressure has probably been put on the Government to ensure that this reform is very limited. In it are the seeds of future problems that will be obvious in the years ahead.

3.26 pm

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I rise to support this important constitutional Bill. Even though the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and I do not agree on very much, I think we share admiration and affection for Her Majesty the Queen and what she has done for the country.

The Bill is making history in provisions that I believe are long overdue. I will speak more specifically to clause 1. In 2002, just after I finished working in the royal household, I published an article saying that the Queen Mother’s death would be a catalyst of change in the monarchy and the nation. I remember the time when people lined the streets, others queued for hours at the lying in state in Westminster Hall, many signed books of condolence and millions watched the service. Those were simple signs of deep respect, love and admiration for someone who had touched their lives. Why? The Queen Mother stood for history, service and duty; she embodied a century of experiences, inventions and discoveries, times of war and times of peace. It showed that the British people care deeply about their past, and about history and tradition. Now, 11 years later, we are considering this important change.

Why should we make this change? Partly, it is a legacy for the Queen and the Queen Mother—a legacy of respect for what they have done. Perhaps it is also to reach out

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to women across the nation to say how much we value women and what they do. No one can doubt the tremendous impact that the Queen has had in her 60-year reign. We need only look at last year’s diamond jubilee to see the huge public support that Her Majesty still has in this country and elsewhere. More than 15 million people in the United Kingdom watched the celebrations on their television screens and the jubilee was thought to have brought more than £1 billion to the economy. More than 2 billion people across the world—about a third of the global population—watched the most recent royal wedding. What those occasions brought to Britain was an increased sense of unity and pride in being British.

Let us not forget the Princess Royal, who has played a full part and cannot be faulted in her role as a senior member of the royal family, absolutely committed to supporting the charities and voluntary organisations she works with. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) said, even though he has concerns about this Bill, this country has had wonderful examples of Queens and we should build on that.

As for the succession to the Crown, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) talked about the Queen of England. As someone who was born in London but brought up in Scotland, I would like to remind him that Her Majesty is not just Queen of England. She is Her Majesty Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories.

Mr MacNeil: May I correct the hon. Lady? The Queen is not Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom; she is Queen Elizabeth I of the United Kingdom.

Mary Macleod: I am so glad to hear the hon. Gentleman being so supportive of Her Majesty the Queen.

Ian Paisley: Of course, the point is that she is our Queen.

Mary Macleod: I think we would all agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Lady referred to Her Majesty being the Queen of Scotland as well. So far, none of the Ministers has referred to any consultations with the Church of Scotland about this. I wonder whether the hon. Lady knows whether there have been any such consultations.

Mary Macleod: I have no knowledge of whether those discussions have taken place, but I am sure that the Minister will respond in due course.

As we have discussed, succession to the throne is currently based on the principle of male primogeniture, according to which male heirs take precedence and the right of succession belongs to the eldest son. However, many countries, including Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, have already changed that so that the right of succession passes to the sovereign’s eldest child, irrespective of gender. I believe it is now time for change in this country, too, especially when former female monarchs have played an outstanding role in our history and at a time when

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women are playing such an important role in society. There is agreement among the general public that the rule of primogeniture in particular should change, thereby showing that the monarchy is continuing to adapt to modern times.

There have been many attempts to amend Crown succession over the years—one parliamentary paper lists 12 private Members’ Bills, from Members in all parts of the House, that have attempted to do so since 1979. Therefore, this is a Bill that can be supported by many Members of the House across the different parties. As has been mentioned, the marriage of His Royal Highness Prince William and Kate Middleton and their subsequent announcement that, God willing, they will have a child in six months’ time, provides further impetus to make these changes once and for all.

Some have commented on the timing and the process of change of which this Bill is a part, but since this issue was raised—many raised it in years gone by before it was raised at the meeting in Perth on 28 October 2011—there has been a process of external discussion and debate for the last 15 months. As we can see, the Chamber is not full today, and I hope that everyone who wishes to speak will get a chance to do so. I therefore feel that there has been appropriate time to consider the issues, given the scope of the Bill.

In today’s modern world, where there is a conscious focus on equal opportunities and breaking the glass ceiling, it would seem realistic to expect that the succession principle will be challenged. The Government have done a lot of work trying to get more women on boards, more women in Parliament and more women to set up businesses and, of course, we have had a female Prime Minister.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): You just lost me.

Mary Macleod: I am sure that we all draw reassurance from the fact that we have had a great female Prime Minister, who achieved many things for this country.

An important purpose of the Bill is to show the importance of the role of women across the land, in the monarchy and elsewhere. It sets an example. It is time for a change and we should make that change now. I am sure that the general public will join me in wishing the monarchy of this country many more centuries of success and prosperity.

3.34 pm

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod). I agree with what she said about the Queen, who is held in very high respect. I remember that, in my childhood, she was a frequent visitor to the Hebrides, which of course testifies to her good sense and to the loyalty of many in the Hebrides, including myself, to the Queen and to her ongoing reign. Long may it last.

We all agree that, while human understanding has progressed over the past 300 years, the rules governing the succession to the Crown have not kept pace with that. The present monarch is happily the Queen of 16 realms, a shared monarchy of many independent countries. The Commonwealth countries, which comprise a quarter of the nations of the Earth, maintain a looser social affiliation with the monarchy.