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Act of Settlement

Volume 551: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2012

As the House is aware, we have sadly lost two Members over the last few weeks. Before I reply to the hon. Gentleman’s question, let me say that both Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell will be very sorely missed.

The right hon. Member for Croydon North was an example to all who entered the House. He always held to the highest standards of public life, and was a credit to the House of Commons. On a personal level, I—along with everyone else, I am sure—was struck by his modesty, compassion and commitment. He worked tirelessly for his constituents. Whether he was dealing with fuel poverty or pursuing legislation to support carers, Malcolm tackled it all with true dedication.

We also heard the sad news of the death of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. While, as pro-Europeans, Sir Stuart and I agreed on the importance of Europe to the United Kingdom, I think he made it abundantly clear at every opportunity that on pretty well everything else he strongly disagreed with me. He was a strong champion of Church matters in his 13-year role as Second Church Estates Commissioner, and he clearly cared deeply about the House and its traditions, earning the respect of Members in all parts of the House.

Our thoughts and prayers go to the families and friends of both Members at this difficult time.

My officials continue to work closely with the Government of New Zealand in their co-ordination of the proposed reforms of royal succession throughout the 16 Commonwealth realms, which were announced by the Prime Minister at the time of the Perth agreement on 28 October 2011.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his answer, and associate myself with his comments about our two former colleagues, recently departed.

The Deputy Prime Minister referred to the work of the New Zealand Government. He will know that legislation will soon be needed to enable those changes to be made, and that it will be initiated in the House of Commons. Given his unenviable record of success in relation to constitutional change, may I suggest that he pass responsibility for the legislation to another Minister, so that there will be some chance of its actually being introduced?

So there are to be Christmas cracker jokes from the very beginning.

No; we will pursue this. As the hon. Gentleman may know, we are already pursuing it, along with 15 other Commonwealth realms, but the process is very complex legally. Although the idea is simple—ending male primogeniture in the succession rules and allowing successors to the monarchy to marry Catholics, removing that discriminatory rule from the current arrangements—it is proving to be quite difficult and time-consuming to align all the legislative processes across all the realms, but I know that the New Zealand Government are doing all they can to expedite that.

Unlike the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend will do a brilliant job in introducing these long-overdue reforms. Is it not ironic that, had the Queen had a younger brother, she would not be Queen at this moment? Is it not time to introduce the other reform to which my right hon. Friend referred briefly? At present, not only a monarch but anyone in the line of succession may not marry a Roman Catholic or, indeed, become one. That is an absurdity, and we must surely do away with it as soon as we can.

I certainly agree that the current rules are anachronistic and explicitly discriminatory. That is the point of the reforms. It should be borne in mind that the new rules, particularly those on male primogeniture, came into effect from the moment that the declaration was made in Perth. Although some painstaking work is needed to extend the legislation to all the Commonwealth realms, it has already taken effect.