Gerald Warner: Succession law gives green light to discrimination against Catholics

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. Picture: Getty
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. Picture: Getty
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EARLY in 2013, Parliament is ­expected to pass the Confirm­ation of Second Class Citizenship for Roman Catholics Bill, though for presentational reasons it is being called the Succession to the Crown Bill.

Its ideological pretext is to remove “discrimination” against women in the succession to the throne, in ­harmony with the contemporary Zeitgeist; in the ­process, it will reaffirm discrimination against Catholics by reiterating their ­exclusion from the royal succession.

Our politicians propose to revisit the most controversial law on the statute book, amend it to remove a very minor perceived discrimination against women and then re-enact it with its aggressive discrimination against Catholics freshly reasserted. Catholics have always resented the Act of Settlement, with its rebarbative provision “That all and every Person and Persons who… is are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall profess the Popish Religion or shall marry a Papist shall be subject to such Incapacities…” (i.e. exclusion from the succession to the throne). Now this law is to be tinkered with for reasons of politically correct grandstanding – leaving the real abuse unreformed.

The desire of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to interfere with the statute that constitutional historian Henry Hallam ­described as “the seal of our constitutional laws” is a continuing legacy of the Blair regime, which regarded the constitution as a plaything to be taken apart, like a schoolboy dismantling a new watch on Christmas morning, in a spirit of modish “modernity”. The supposed discrimination against women in the royal succession is a pseudo-grievance fuelled by the hysteria regarding “equality” that has displaced ­rationality in our public discourse. For over a millennium the system of male-preference cognatic primogeniture, strong in the Scottish tradition, has served us well. Nor can it be said to have discriminated significantly against women: since the passing of the Act of Settlement we have been ruled by men for 174 years and by women for 137 years.

Until 1980, no European monarchy practised the system of absolute cognatic primogeniture which the new legislation would impose – and for a very good reason: it produces a destabilising change of dynasty more often than is desirable. If the Cameron/Clegg system had been in place at the death of Queen Victoria, her eldest daughter would have reigned as Victoria II from January to August 1901, then been succeeded by her eldest son, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Such is the intellectual debasement of Britain today that the constitution is no longer governed by the principles of Bagehot but by those of Kevin the Teenager: “It’s not fair.” “Fairness” is irrelevant to an institution in which one individual is anointed, drives in a gilded coach and before whom the Lord Chamberlain walks backwards.

Yet, even in terms of its own cretinous prejudices, the equality imposture implodes in view of the continuing discrimination against Catholics. Apparently they should be dancing in the streets because the monarch will be allowed to marry a Catholic. Yet the main purpose of the proposed legislation is not to liberalise the rules regarding whom princesses may marry, but to enable elder daughters to occupy the throne. Denying that right to Catholics perpetuates discrimination. The claim that the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England is a canard: the position of Head of the Church is not canonical but administrative. Although it may not be a happy precedent, James II and VII held that position without canonical objection. It is the Act of Settlement that imposes the requirement to be in communion with the Anglican Church – the statute that is to be amended.

The proposed legislation will confirm Catholics as the sole minority against whom it is not only permissible but fashionable to discriminate. Catholics south of the Border have already lost their adoption agencies to politically correct totalitarianism. David Cameron has now announced same-sex marriages will be legislated on religious premises: his “cast-iron” guarantee that churches will not be compelled to host them, like the bogus assurance from the Scottish Government, is contradicted by the European Court decision in Gas and Dubois v France last March. Catholic clergy could eventually go to prison for refusing to obey the law.

The irony of this “reform” is that, at a time of neurotic obsession over “discrimination” and on those very grounds, Parliament is preparing to re-enact the anti-Catholic provisions of the Act of Settlement. Even in 1701 it was so controversial it only passed the House of Commons by one vote. In 2013 it is likely to secure a larger majority. Unless, that is, Labour decides to insist on abolishing religious discrimination entirely, in which case Dave’s goose will be well and truly cooked.

Twitter: @GeraldWarner1