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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow on in the debate, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. He follows in the footsteps of the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare. I am sure that both noble Lords take great pride in that fact.

I do not have strong feelings about the subject matter of the Bill. It is good PR, but it is no great shakes against the life-and-death issues of filthy hospitals and dangerous and disorderly streets which we are normally used to debating.

The issue of succession does not arise at the moment. You could argue, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that this would be a good time to change the law, or you could argue that if there ever is again a first-born female in the line of succession, that would be the time to change the law in the light of the then feelings of the nation, the Royal Family and the public.

That is a matter of judgment, but let us not run away with the view that those who say there are more important matters to deal with are hostile to women. After all, I have not lived all my life in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II to hold some antiquated view that a woman cannot rule equally well. Indeed, I suspect that there is not a single Englishman who has held that view since the time of the first Elizabeth—surely one of England's greatest monarchs, despite her regrettable high-handedness towards her Scottish cousins. The present system has given us Queens for 117 of the past 168 years of excellent service.

I understand the good reasons that have led the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to put the Bill forward, and I was pleased to hear him recognise the fundamental point made by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn in 1998 when speaking on behalf of the Government. I
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shall quote him, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, did, but it is worth repeating because it goes to the heart of the process. He said:

That was true in 1998 and it must be true, I think, in 2005. So, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—it may not be the most important point but it follows that raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway: why did he decide to bring forward a Bill rather than have a thorough debate on the Floor of the House? If, when he replies, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor says that these ideas deserve to be looked at, I ask: did not Lord Williams of Mostyn say in 1998, that,

I hope that he will be able to tell us whatever happened to that decision. We have had plenty of opportunities for legislation since then. After all, we have found time to legislate for Sinn Fein/IRA men to stand for two Parliaments in two different countries but no time to follow up this decision, which so many people regard as being of great importance.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor cannot do today what Gareth Williams did in 1998—show his ankle and then do nothing. Either he should tell the House that the Government intend to alter the Act of Succession or say that he will leave well alone. Seven years after Lord Williams said what he said, the noble and learned Lord cannot say the same thing and expect anyone to believe a word that he or the Government say on the matter.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Strathclyde: That is my view, my Lords. If I were the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I would be rather less worried about sibling jealousies in a future Buckingham Palace and rather more concerned about fraternal relationships in Downing Street.

I turn to the practical problems in legislating in this area. Again, Gareth Williams told the House in 1998:

I agree with that. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also agrees with it, so perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can report to the House on the consultations that the Government have had with the other nations affected in the seven years since their decision in 1998. Would all those nations see this change as a legislative priority, including Australia, where the public reaffirmed their
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support for the present monarchy in a referendum in 1999? Australia is one of our closest allies. I wonder whether Mr John Howard is keen to reopen a debate on the monarchy. Has he urged the Prime Minister to put him in the position of having to introduce a Bill in Australia to change the law on the Crown?

If all nations did not agree, as the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, explained, in due course we might have a situation such as the one in 1837 where Queen Victoria became Queen here but, under Salic law, her uncle became ruler of Hanover. I think that that would loosen the Commonwealth ties that exist in the Crown with no benefit either to the Crown or to the Commonwealth.

The real problem with some of the issues in the Bill is that, when you tug at the string, a complex knot then begins to unravel. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was at his most beguiling in his introduction. He said that it was breathtakingly modest. But I think that real complexities are involved—not least those enunciated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester.

Of course, on the face of it, a Catholic debarment is discriminatory and, in an ideal world, it would not exist. But in an ideal world, the Catholic Church would recognise Anglican orders and a Catholic King could be validly married by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But the world is not ideal. Members of the Royal Family can marry a Roman Catholic—some have—but they cannot currently do so, I believe, and aspire to become head of the Church of England. I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester suspected that that could be the case, but I would need to discuss that far more fully to be convinced of the possibility.

I am not a member of the Church of England and it is not for me to pronounce on establishment, or otherwise. But the time to address that—and, with it, the future of the right reverend Prelates in this House—is not in an incomplete provision in a Private Member's Bill.

I have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. It is easy to say that things should not be as they are, but efforts to end what is perceived as divisive could end up creating new forms of division. We should all pray for ecumenical accommodation between Canterbury and Rome and, when that is reached in a spirit of parity, these matters could and should be carefully addressed.

The final issue in the Bill is a suggestion that the Royal Marriages Act be totally repealed. I was not entirely convinced by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on this. It is true that modern Royal Dukes are not as raffish as the Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Gloucester, who gave so much trouble in the 18th century, but I wonder whether there is not some sense in allowing Crown and Parliament to control those who can become the consort of a monarch. I know that that is an old-fashioned view but perhaps the House will bear with me for a moment.

As the Act itself says in its preamble, marriages in the Royal Family are of the highest importance to the state. That is not just 18th century guff; it is a fact. It is also not a unique power. Very recently in one major
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Royal House in Europe, a prince was stripped of the right to succession because he was felt to have misled the public about criminal connections in his intended spouse's family. Two other members of the same Royal Family have also been debarred in the past 30 years.

In Spain, those with a right of succession to the throne who marry against the prohibition of King and Cortes are excluded from succession to the Crown, as are their descendants. In Norway, only the King can give permission for a wedding of an heir, in dialogue with Parliament. Even in liberal Holland, anyone in line of succession who marries without permission of Parliament loses the right of succession. Sweden this week is mourning Count Lennart Bernadotte, who was debarred for contracting an unapproved marriage. Other nations still see the importance of having an element of control over who enters the close family of a hereditary head of state. I wonder why we should strip ourselves of a power that other countries have found necessary far more recently than Britain.

The Bill touches difficult issues. All can be looked at if the Government believe it to be an overriding priority. Whatever government we have in the future should take this up only after very careful cross-party and international consultation, which must of course involve the Royal Family and the Churches. If the Government want to discuss this matter as a priority, then we, as the Official Opposition, will play our part constructively in any discussions that they want to have.

In the weeks that are left of this Parliament, I would prefer to attend to the crises in pensions and public services rather than change an institution which has given us unblemished public service for generations and which I pray will continue to do so for many years to come.

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