So – Gordon Brown is finally ‘having discussions’ about the antiquated customs that surround accession to the throne – the monarch not being able to marry a Catholic (Jews, Muslims and atheists are OK) and women get shunted out of line to the throne by the boys. So – hurrah! Except he is only doing it because my Lib Dem colleague Evan Harris, in his Private Members’ Bill today on this subject, is forcing the issue.
As indeed, I have forced it myself before. That time the Government conceded the issue – but said the Commonwealth was the sticking point. Labour has already says it would bring this in in a fourth term. Yes – stop laughing. Sometime never! The Bill is unlikely to get through today for Parliamentary reasons too tedious to go into, like Labour talking out the Bill or 100 MPs not being there for the Bill to pass etc. – Fridays are constituency days so most MPs go back to their area on a Thursday night, and unless the Government is going to let the Bill pass or – as with the recent Autism Bill – everyone agrees to turn up, nothing comes to pass.
There is a long line of MPs who have tried to get these most symbolic of inequalities ended including Jeffrey Archer, myself, Jo Swinson, Evan Harris and many others – but hopefully days are now numbered. I post the exchange in Parliament during questions last year on both Catholics and women:
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Here is a representation for the Minister. Next weekend, Peter Phillips is due to marry Autumn Kelly; she has had to convert to the Church of England to preserve his place in succession to the throne. I am sure that the whole House will want to wish the happy couple well on their big day, but would it not be better to send them a wedding present by using the equality Bill to abolish that institutional discrimination against Catholics?
Barbara Follett: I think that I will confine myself to congratulating the happy couple, and wishing them well in their marriage, which, as hon. Members know, requires a lot of adjustments on both sides at the beginning, middle and end.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): The Minister may be aware that I referred the case of Lady Louise being bumped out of line to the throne to the European Court of Human Rights, and it has responded positively, supporting the principle of getting rid of male primogeniture. The Solicitor-General made positive comments about that change being in the Act, and I congratulate the Government on that and welcome it. Does the Minister agree that it is very disappointing when those on the Tory Benches slide backwards and say that because it is difficult in the Commonwealth— [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not for the Minister to concern herself with Conservative party policy. The hon. Lady has been called because she is a Liberal spokesman, so she should put her question to the Minister.
Lynne Featherstone: You are right, Mr. Speaker, as always. Will the Minister assure me that the difficulties of working this through the Commonwealth should not stand in the way of its being done? It is right that it should be done, and we have heard from all parties that it should be done, so will the Minister confirm that view?
Barbara Follett: This kind of change in our country, which has a long tradition, is always difficult. Before any change is brought in, we will try to build a cross-party consensus, and a cross-Commonwealth consensus. Primogeniture is a problem, and it is offensive, but we have to approach the matter cautiously.