Law favouring male monarchs to be abolished
SWEEPING changes to the laws on succession to the throne will be pushed through by the Government, including ending the right of boys to take precedence over older sisters.
Vera Baird, the solicitor-general, who is to help steer a new equality law through the Commons, said last night the entrenched right of males to succeed to the throne ahead of their older sisters was "unfair" and "a load of rubbish".
She added: "I have always thought that what we have to do with the Royal Family is integrate them as far as possible into the human race."
She also confirmed she wants to repeal the law banning the heir to the throne from marrying a Catholic. "The ban on Catholics should be abolished too, because that is discriminatory," she said.
The single equality bill, to be drafted later this year, will bring together existing laws on sex discrimination, age, race, disability, sexual orientation and religion. The changes will supersede the provisions in the 1701 Act of Settlement.
Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has indicated his support for the reform in a letter to Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat equality spokeswoman.
He said the quango was "thinking about whether we might look at this further in the context of our thinking on new equality law".
Featherstone said she was optimistic that there was cross-party support for reform. "We can't have a law that is meant to fight Government discrimination and injustice and allow a blatantly sexist law on royal succession to continue," she said.
A change in the law would not alter the current line of succession. However, if Prince William's oldest child was a girl, and he also had a younger son, the daughter would become Queen.
The ban on Catholics, or anyone married to a Catholic, succeeding to the throne has been a constant source of controversy over the years. Leading Roman Catholics have condemned the statute and repeatedly called for it to be repealed.
The late Cardinal Winning condemned the law, calling it "the grubby little secret which still shames our nation".
And in February 2005, Cardinal Keith O'Brien overshadowed an Executive summit on tackling bigotry by describing the Act of Settlement, banning Catholics from the throne, as "hurtful" and demanding the Executive lobby for its repeal.
He said: "It's a matter of regret, surely, that had Mrs Parker Bowles been a Catholic, Prince Charles would have lost the right to succession to the throne and, similarly, if they had been going to have children they would have been excluded from the right of succession, and that's hurtful."
Promulgated in the dying days of the reign of William of Orange, the Act of Settlement was designed to bar from the throne all the Catholic descendants of James II and VII. Anyone who "shall profess the Popish religion or shall marry a Papist" was deemed, in perpetuity, unfit to become King or Queen.
Originally applicable only in England, this piece of institutionalised religious discrimination was extended to Scotland under Article II of the Treaty of Union in 1707 and ratified by the Scottish Parliament.
In recent years, two members of the Royal Family – Prince Michael of Kent and a son of the Duke of Kent – have lost their places in the line of succession because they have married Roman Catholics.
The last time primogeniture – the first-born son taking precedence – was applied in the UK was in 1901 when King Edward VII succeeded to the throne on the death of his mother Queen Victoria.
King Edward had an elder sister, also called Victoria, who would have become Victoria II had siblings been treated equally.
Victoria, the Princess Royal, married the German Kaiser Frederick III. And had she become Queen in her own right in the UK, her son Wilhelm II of Germany would have become King of Great Britain. Wilhelm II was the German Kaiser at the time of the First World War.
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