EUROPE: GREAT BRITAIN: LORDS DISCUSS CATHOLIC BAN FROM THRONE
IND. CATH. NEWS REPORT: The Act of Succession, which bans Catholics from succeeding to the British Throne was discussed in the House of Lords last night. Lords Dubs suggested that the law was discriminatory and said, given that there was a bar on Roman Catholics, it was odd that there is no bar against Jews, Muslims, Hindus or even atheists.
The text of the exchange follows:
Lord Dubs: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any proposals to amend the Act of Settlement to afford equal rights to the Throne for daughters of the Sovereign and Roman Catholics.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government do not have any plans to amend the Act of Settlement.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as a country, we oppose discrimination on grounds of gender or religion? It is curious, to say the least, that we allow such discrimination to continue in the succession to the Throne. Does he also agree that, given that there is a bar on Roman Catholics, it is odd that there is no bar against Jews, Muslims, Hindus or even atheists? Does he further agree that the matter is of some urgency? If His Royal Highness Prince William and his bride have children, it would be invidious to change the arrangements then. The time to do it is surely now.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I might agree with many of the propositions that the noble Lord has put forward, but as the previous Administration recognised, we are dealing with Acts of Parliament that govern not only us but a number of countries where the Queen is Head of State. For that reason, we have been proceeding with extreme caution.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the central provision for the establishment of the Church of England is that the Sovereign, as Supreme Governor, should join in communion with that church? Does the Minister agree that, unless the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to soften its rules on its members' involvement with the Church of England, whose orders it regards as null and void, it is hard to see how the Act of Settlement can be changed without paving the way for disestablishment, which, though it might be welcome to some, would be of great concern to many and not just to Anglicans or, indeed, to other Christians?
Lord McNally: My Lords, that intervention shows the wisdom of proceeding with extreme caution on these matters.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, shortly after joining this House more than 10 years ago, I introduced a Private Member's Bill that was torpedoed very effectively by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley and which sought to prevent the heir to the Throne marrying a Roman Catholic? The then Government used exactly the same argument, saying that it required countries in which the Queen is Head of State to pass legislation and that they would take the matter forward. It is more than 10 years since that commitment was made. What progress was made and what was done?
Lord McNally: My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Lord down from his mountain in Antarctica. Messages from the mountain top are always welcome. We are talking about an Act that is 300 years old and that has served this country not too badly when one considers the 60 years of religious and communal strife that went before it. Therefore, although 10 years seems a long time, there have been consultations. I thought that, at least in this House, talking of progress in terms of centuries would be much appreciated. As is known, the previous Administration initiated discussions among Commonwealth countries. Those discussions are proceeding under the chairmanship of the New Zealand Government and we will continue to keep the matter under consideration.