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PM and Palace 'discussed reform'

posted 26 Mar 2009, 19:08 by Dilwoar Hussain   [ updated 26 Mar 2009, 19:11 ]
From BBC News
Page last updated at 01:40 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

State Opening of Parliament
A Private Members' Bill on the reforms is due to be debated

Gordon Brown and Buckingham Palace have discussed plans to change the rules of succession to the throne, including giving royal women equal rights.

Downing Street said the scrapping of the ban on heirs to the throne marrying Roman Catholics was also discussed.

A Private Members' Bill aimed at ending the discrimination is due to be debated but the government is not backing it.

Meanwhile a BBC poll suggests there is overwhelming public support, with some some 80% backing the bill's proposals.

The poll also suggests 76% of Britons want the monarchy to continue after the Queen.

The legislation on reform has been introduced by Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, to end the "uniquely discriminatory" rules laid down in the 1701 Act of Settlement.

For centuries the rules have endured but the government has indicated that it is prepared to look at it again, said BBC political correspondent Ben Wright.

Downing Street confirmed the prime minister would raise the prospect of the major reforms at a Commonwealth summit in November, and that dialogue with Buckingham Palace was ongoing.

Such reform would need the backing of the 15 other Commonwealth countries which have the British monarch as head of state.

Sources at Number 10 have said while the government supports the "principles and objectives" of the bill, it would not support the bill itself.

Dr Harris has cross-party support for his proposals, but a Ministry of Justice spokesman said while the government "stood firmly against discrimination" there were no immediate plans to legislate because the changes required were "complex".

Equal rights for royal women? - 89% yes
Heir allowed to marry Catholic? - 81% yes
British monarchy to continue? - 76% yes
1,000 people polled by ICM Research, 20-22 March 2009

'Slowly, slowly'

The Act states that heirs to the throne lose their right to be the sovereign if they marry a Catholic or convert.

In addition, male heirs are given precedence.

If the Act was changed to give royal daughters equal rights, Princess Anne would become fourth in line, behind Prince Harry. Currently she comes after the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex, and their children.

As things stand, Prince William cannot marry a Roman Catholic and become king.

And if he has a daughter she cannot be queen if she has a younger brother.

Dr Harris's Royal Marriages and Succession to the Crown (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill is co-sponsored by Catholic parliamentarians such as Tory MP Edward Leigh, Labour's Andrew Mackinlay and John Grogan and fellow Lib Dem John Pugh.

BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said the government was now moving "slowly, very slowly" on the issue, as it tried to deal with what a Scottish cardinal has called "state-sponsored sectarianism", said

But it may not give this particular private members bill the support it would need to become law.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The government has always stood firmly against discrimination in all its forms, including against Roman Catholics, and we will continue to do so.

"To bring about changes to the law on succession would be a complex undertaking involving amendment or repeal of a number of items of related legislation, as well as requiring the consent of legislatures of member nations of the Commonwealth.

"We are examining this complex area although there are no immediate plans to legislate."

Pie chart


Dr Harris said there was "nothing new" in the government saying it wanted to see change.

"When first elected 12 years ago they said they would end unjustified discrimination wherever it exists. But there has been no action to back that up.

"They need to support this bill today, amend it as necessary and make sure it passes. They can't wait until next year because our constitution also tells us that their time is up in June. This is the last chance."

The BBC poll, conducted by ICM Research, suggests four out of five people want to give women equal rights of succession and remove the ban on the heir marrying a Roman Catholic.

Some 89% of the 1,000 people questioned believed male and female heirs should have equal rights to succeed to the throne.

Some 81% believed that an heir to the throne should be allowed to marry a Roman Catholic and still become monarch.

According to the poll, 76% said the monarchy should continue, against 18% who said they would favour Britain becoming a republic. An additional 6% said they did not know.