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Monarchy (Male Primogeniture)

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

12. If she will include provisions in the single equality Bill to end the practice of male primogeniture in succession to the throne. (204037)

The equality Bill will combat discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, in public functions and in employment. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, who has responsibility for issues of succession, has made it clear that the Government are ready to consider the arguments about primogeniture. This is a complex area, and any change in the law governing succession to the throne would require the consent of the other Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty is Head of State. The Government will keep the position under review.

But why will the Government not let us have a discussion about the institution of the monarchy? Many of us find offensive the fact that our Head of State has to be of a particular religion. In a modern democracy, the Head of State should be able to be of any religion or none. We do not want to tinker with this matter just to suit some members of the royal family. The rule of male primogeniture is offensive, but so are the rules relating to the religious faith—or lack of it—of the Head of State. It is time for us, and the other countries that are subject to the Statute of Westminster, to be radical and to address this matter. Let’s get on with it!

I hear what my hon. Friend says. He says it loudly and he says it strongly, so he has just proved any suggestion that we do not discuss these issues to be incorrect.

I suspect that there are universal views across the House that male primogeniture is an aspect of the royal succession that could be sensibly changed. Could the Solicitor-General confirm that the major issue is that the Act of Settlement applies not only to this country but to all other Commonwealth countries that have the Queen as Head of State and that, in the circumstances, for us to move without moving at the same pace and in the same fashion as those countries would cause problems that are probably best avoided?

I was grateful for the hon. and learned Gentleman’s support, but then he backslid a little bit in the last sentence. However, he pinpoints the problem, which is about the Commonwealth countries.