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Succession to the Crown Bill

Volume 557: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2013

Second Reading

I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill does three specific things. First, it ends the system of male-preference primogeniture so that, in the royal succession, older sisters will no longer be overtaken by their younger brothers. Secondly, it removes the law that says that anyone who marries a Roman Catholic automatically loses their place in the line, a legal barrier that applies to Catholics and only to Catholics—no other faith. Thirdly, it replaces the Royal Marriages Act 1772.

Under the 1772 Act, any descendent of George II must seek the reigning monarch’s consent before marrying, without which their marriage is void. That law, passed 240 years ago, is clearly now unworkable. George II’s descendants number in their hundreds. Many will be unaware of that arcane requirement and many will have only a tenuous link to the royal family.

The Bill proposes that the monarch need consent only to the marriages of the first six individuals in the line of succession, without which consent they would lose their place.

I have heard what the Deputy Prime Minister has said about the previous situation, but surely the requirement of the monarch’s permission for those first six individuals is arcane in this day and age.

It is not arcane; it is a pragmatic judgment. The Bill retains the requirement for permission from the monarch for those wishing to marry who are in the immediate line of succession. It seeks to confine what had become a sprawling requirement to a much more limited and pragmatic one.

I simply do not understand why the monarch would want to retain the right to forbid somebody to marry and to declare their marriage null and void because consent was not granted. On what basis would they refuse to grant consent—because someone involved was illegitimate, not wealthy enough, a commoner or an actress? Those are reasons that have previously been used for not consenting.

That, of course, is a matter for the monarch. It is a power of the monarch’s that has not been brought into that much dispute for a prolonged period. We had a choice: we could either remove it altogether or trim it radically to the six individuals in the immediate line of succession.

I wonder whether the Deputy Prime Minister is aware that the six people are being brought back into the provisions of the Royal Marriages Act. The exemption in the Act states:

“other than the issue of princesses who have married, or may hereafter marry, into foreign families”.

The marriage of Louisa, daughter of George II, from whom Princess Alexandra was directly descended, excludes the Prince of Wales, all his children and all their future children from the provisions of the Royal Marriages Act. Bringing the six people in will, in a novel way, include them in the provisions of an outdated Act.

As a proficient historian, the hon. Gentleman will know that the original Act was passed because of George III’s urgent wish to control the marriage of some of his own children. That set a precedent which has remained on the statute book for a long period. We are retaining the right of the monarch to confer that permission, but only to those in the immediate line of succession; the hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is different from what preceded it. Having been in consultation with the royal household over a prolonged period, we feel that that strikes the right balance.

Presumably, the Deputy Prime Minister, knows that a Member of this House, who is 246th in the line of succession to the throne, was previously covered by this provision; I will check with him as to whether he asked permission to marry. We heard recently that certain Bills have been blocked in this House, including Tam Dalyell’s 1999 Bill about giving the House, rather than the monarchy, the decision on whether to declare war. We have been told that the monarchy, under instructions from Prime Ministers, has acted to make such changes. Was the royal family involved in producing the figure of six?

As I said, I accept that there is a certain arbitrariness about the figure of six; it could be seven or five. The principle to limit the powers of the monarch to grant permission to marry to those who are in the immediate line of succession seemed to us to be the right balance to strike, but I accept that perfectly valid arguments of principle could be made otherwise. It is, however, a very dramatic change—pragmatic, but dramatic none the less—from the precedent that has been set from the days of George III.

I really want to make progress now.

The reform that limits permission to the six who are in line to the throne is made for practical reasons; the other two reforms are more about our values. The current rules of succession belong to a bygone era; they reflect old prejudices and old fears. Today we do not support laws that discriminate on either religious or gender grounds. They have no place in modern Britain, and certainly not in our monarchy—an institution central to our constitution, to the Commonwealth, and to our national identity too. With the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge expecting a baby and our having just celebrated our Queen’s 60-year reign, this Bill is timely as well as popular. It is also straightforward and enjoys support across the House, which, as I should know, is a rare thing in constitutional reform issues.

I will come to the Catholic provisions in a few moments, because I am aware that, as we have already heard, some hon. Members have concerns about their implications. On female succession, the real question that we need to ask is why it has taken us so long. This is a nation that prides itself on pioneering equality between the sexes: a nation of great Queens such as Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II. A woman can, and has, been Head of the UK Government, yet still on our statute books, with Parliament’s official backing, we have succession laws based on the supposed superiority of men. That anachronism is out of step with our society, it sends the wrong message to the rest of the world, and it is time for the rules to change.

As the Member of Parliament for Wyre and Preston North, I represent huge tracts of Duchy of Lancaster land. Henry IV set up the Lancastrian inheritance separately from the Crown and its entities to follow through the male heirs, except where the monarch was a female. Under that separate arrangement for passing on the private possessions of the Duke of Lancaster, inheritance currently remains with the male heir where a male is a child of a monarch. Therefore, if the Queen were to have both a boy and a girl, would we not be in danger of splitting an inheritance so that the changes ensured that the female inherited the position of monarch but the title of Duke of Lancaster went to the son?

Order. Before the Deputy Prime Minister answers, may I say that we need shorter interventions? I hope that that can be taken on board.

As my hon. Friend knows, this Bill deals only with the succession to the throne and not with issues relating to the succession of hereditary titles. We can have a perfectly valid separate argument about that, but it is not within the very narrow scope of this Bill, all the reasons for which have been explained by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith).

I am not sure that my right hon. Friend understands. This measure, without such clarity, will disinherit the monarch of the lands that the monarch holds in the title of Duke of Lancaster, given that that is a separate division from the Crown.

Let me make it clear that this is about the succession to the Crown and nothing else. The issues of succession to hereditary titles can be dealt with separately if this House so wishes.

I have taken many interventions and will continue to do so, but I would like to make a little progress.

The Bill builds on the endeavours of the previous Government, who helped to lay the foundations for reform with the Commonwealth realms—

This is crucial, because what the Deputy Prime Minister says now could be taken in the law courts as giving interpretation to the law. Has he said that under the provisions of this Bill, the Duchy of Lancaster would be separated from the Crown for the first time since the reign of Henry IV?

No, I did not say that. I said that this Bill deals only with succession to the Crown and that succession to all other titles can be dealt with separately. For clarity’s purpose, my hon. Friend will remember that the Sovereign Grant Act—

May I answer the question? The Sovereign Grant Act 2010 makes a very important change that touches on the succession to the Crown as far as the Duchy of Cornwall is concerned. As the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) may know, the convention is that the male heir to the throne has the title of Duchy of Cornwall conferred on him, but a female heir to the throne does not. The Bill does not change that situation, but the provisions of the Sovereign Grant Act mean that the financial support provided via the Duchy of Cornwall can, in future, be provided to female heirs to the throne as well. To that extent, there is a link between this very tightly circumscribed Bill and the provisions of the Sovereign Grant Act.

The drafting of the Bill has been a long and careful process. I pay special tribute to Rebecca Kitteridge, New Zealand’s Cabinet Secretary, for her extraordinary work in making sure that these proposals can be effected across the Commonwealth realms. Agreeing constitutional change for 16 states, each with its own Government and legislature, is clearly a challenge. From the point at which the realms backed the reforms in principle in 2011, it took one year and two months to get full agreement in writing from everyone. In a phenomenal coincidence—one that I know is hard to believe—we received the final consent just hours before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced that they are expecting a baby.

I will make a little more progress and then give way.

The palace has, of course, been actively involved in the process from the beginning, and both the Church of England and the Catholic Church have been kept informed throughout.

I am very grateful. There have been misinformed suggestions in some newspapers that the Church of England is in some way opposed to this Bill. May I make it clear and put it on the record that the Church of England has absolutely no objection to it whatsoever?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record. Later in my remarks I will repeat verbatim the form that that support from the Church of England took.

On the Commonwealth, the Deputy Prime Minister said that the 16 realms had given their approval just prior to the announcement of the royal pregnancy. However, that approval was still subject, was it not, to parliamentary endorsement in each of those countries? Therefore, will the Bill come into effect only once the relevant legislation has been enacted in all those countries? If so, when does he expect that that might happen?

My understanding is that it needs to come into force in all the realms. Interestingly, two of the realms, Jamaica and Papua New Guinea, do not, for their own reasons, need to go through the full legislative process. That is partly why we are so keen to keep the precision of the terms of the Bill and the narrowness of its scope, such that it can be easily adopted and digested under all the different parliamentary and legislative conventions that exist in the 16 Commonwealth realms. We now have a very short Bill of five clauses and a schedule. I urge the House to bear it in mind that, as I have explained, the Bill must be kept narrow in order to be adopted across all 16 Commonwealth realms.

I have heard it suggested that we should use the Bill to tackle the gender bias in hereditary titles whereby titles and the benefits that come with them leapfrog eldest daughters and are handed down to younger sons, or can be lost entirely when there is no male heir. Personally, I am sympathetic to that reform and can see why this seems like the natural time to do it, but, for purely practical reasons, it cannot and will not be done in this Bill. Nor can we can use the Bill to mop up any other constitutional odds and ends. Put simply, it cannot be broadened to include UK-specific reforms, because they are not relevant to the realms of the Commonwealth.

Turning to the all-important so-called Catholic question, the coalition Government are seeking to remove the current ban on heirs to the throne marrying Catholics; or, as the current legislation says, rather insultingly, depending on one’s point of view, from “marrying a Papist”. That law is a reflection of the times in which it was written. It followed nearly two centuries of religious strife within England, Scotland and Ireland; the threat of conflict with Louis XIV’s France and other Catholic powers; and tension with Rome. It was an era when legal defences seemed vital against a dangerous threat from abroad.

That does not just apply to the royal accession—in the 40 years after the Glorious Revolution a whole range of restrictions were put in place. Catholics could not vote, they were excluded from all professions and public offices and they could not go to university, could not teach, could not be the guardian of a child, could not buy land with a lease of more than 31 years and could not own a horse worth more than £5. Edmund Burke called the laws

“well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people…as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

Many of the laws were repealed relatively quickly. The ban on owning land was repealed in 1778 and that on voting and serving in the legal profession in 1793. By the time the ban on Catholics from serving in this House as MPs and from serving as judges was lifted in 1829, most of the main restrictions were gone.

Do not worry, I am not going to say, “Ah, those halcyon days.” If, as the Deputy Prime Minister’s colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary has rightly said, the Bill will not rule that the monarch must not be a Roman Catholic, would it not for the sake of clarity be beneficial to include that in the Bill?

Our judgment is that that is not necessary and that the Bill’s intent is entirely clear.

To bring us right up to date—given that the hon. Gentleman referred to yesteryear—it was only in November 1995 that Her Majesty the Queen visited Westminster cathedral, which was the first time a reigning monarch had set foot inside a Catholic church since Queen Mary. That was a watershed moment in relations between the British state and its millions of loyal, patriotic Catholic citizens. Now it falls to us to take a step further in this journey by ridding ourselves of the arcane ban on Catholics marrying the monarch, and this Bill does exactly that.

I know that some hon. Members have concerns—we have heard them today—about potential unintended consequences of the reform. One concern, for example, is that if a monarch married a Catholic their heir would have to be brought up in the Catholic faith, and that, on becoming King or Queen, they would then assume their role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, which would, in turn, lead to the disestablishment of the state Church. If we followed that logic, however, we should be introducing bans on marriage to members of every other faith and, indeed, people with no faith. Right now the monarch can marry a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu or an atheist, yet no one is alleging today that we are teetering on the edge of a constitutional crisis.

The Catholic Church does not have any blanket rule dictating that all children in mixed marriages must be brought up as Catholics. Indeed, if we look at the current royal family, we see that Prince Michael of Kent is an Anglican, his wife a Catholic and their heirs, Lord Frederick and Lady Gabriella Windsor, are Anglican and retain their places in line to the throne.

I refer the Deputy Prime Minister to canon 1125 of the Catholic Church, which states clearly that a party to a mixed marriage must make his or her best efforts to bring up the children in the Catholic faith. Of course, some Catholics fail, but that does not mean that there is not a rule of the Catholic Church—there is.

If I understand it correctly, the precise wording—the hon. Gentleman may be able to correct me—is “best endeavours”. Equally, however, the Catholic Church has been clear that Bishops are free to decide, which they do on an ongoing basis, to allow a married couple—one a Catholic and the other of another faith—to bring up their children in a faith other than the Catholic faith.

The Deputy Prime Minister is absolutely right. Canon 1124 allows for the Bishop to give permission for a mixed marriage, subject to canon 1125, which is the requirement for best efforts to be made to bring the children up as Catholic. Of course, it is open to the Government to ask the Papacy, via the Papal Nuncio, for a papal indult to get around that for royal marriages. I wonder whether that has been done.

It might be worth reading out the words of the Archbishop of Westminster, who said when it was announced that we would proceed with this Bill:

“I welcome the decision of Her Majesty's Government to give heirs to the throne the freedom to marry a Catholic”.

He also said, crucially, that

“I fully recognise the importance of the position of the Established Church in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today.”

I do not think that anyone has sought, in any such pronouncements, to highlight the risks that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted today.

I want to make progress and quote a statement by the Church of England itself, in a briefing issued to MPs last week. It said:

“The present prohibition on anyone remaining in the line of succession or succeeding to the Crown as a result of marrying a Roman Catholic is not necessary to support the requirement that the Sovereign join in communion with the Church of England. Its proposed removal is a welcome symbolic and practical measure consistent with respect for the principle of religious liberty. It reflects the sea change in ecumenical relations over recent decades.”

I have, therefore, quoted statements from both the Catholic Church and the Church of England and I hope they will provide ample comfort to those who are concerned.

I support the position that my right hon. Friend is taking and I am worried by the argument of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that, somehow, the United Kingdom Government and the monarchy would have to ask the permission of the Papacy, which would, in itself, be a deprivation of religious freedom. These are difficult decisions, but what my right hon. Friend is doing is surely not putting us in that situation.

I want to be clear that there is absolutely no prospect of our entering into discussions with the Vatican in order to bring this Bill into effect.

Is it not reasonable to assume, as my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in Government appear to have assumed in the way in which they have drafted the Bill, that on attaining adulthood, an heir to the throne, regardless of the religious affiliation of his or her mother or father, could put his or her duty as the future monarch of our country ahead of any religious faith and decide for him or herself to take a position that would be constitutionally acceptable and protect the monarchy?

That is a practical and perfectly reasonable assumption to make. I would highlight the fact, however, that under the current provisions, even if we did not proceed with the Bill, an heir to the throne could marry someone of the Hindu faith and yet decide, not least because they would be acutely aware of their place and duty in the line of succession to the throne, that their children, if they had any, were to be brought up in the Anglican faith. That assumption acts as a bedrock underneath the status quo. We are only extrapolating that by adding the Catholic faith to all the other faiths that can be involved in a marriage to heirs to the throne.

I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister for giving way—he is being very generous. Does he believe that the monarch would legally be able to refuse consent to a marriage merely on the basis of somebody marrying a Roman Catholic? There is no provision that says what the monarch must bear in mind and, indeed, the old legislation, which we are repealing, makes it clear that it is the monarch with the Privy Council who makes the decision, whereas in this Bill it is just the monarch on their own.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we are not seeking to specify in legislation the terms in which the monarch provides that consent. We are certainly not specifying that that should be done according to the faith of the person who is marrying an heir to the throne.

In matters of constitutional significance, we should of course always proceed with care. Yes, we must always think through the potential knock-on effects of reform, but we also need to move with the times. Discrimination is discrimination wherever we find it, and just as we respect our traditions and cherish our monarchy, the House must never tolerate prejudice in our laws. Equality is, after all, a great British tradition too. I commend the Bill to the House.

The Opposition strongly support the Bill. The Labour Government, under the premiership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), began the work on the changes that we see in it. I am pleased to say that our manifesto for the 2010 general election stated:

“Our constitutional monarchy is the source of deep pride and strength for our country…there is a case”—

I believe it to be a strong case—

“for reform of the laws concerning marriage to Roman Catholics and the primacy of male members of the Royal family.”

Those two points are at the heart of the Bill. As the Deputy Prime Minister explained, marrying a Roman Catholic will no longer prevent a person from becoming or remaining monarch, and the Bill will end discrimination in determining succession so that a younger son cannot have precedence over an elder daughter in the line of succession to the throne.

With regard to the first issue, it is surely right that the current exclusion of individuals who marry Catholics be brought to an end, especially as no other discrimination of that kind is on the statute book. The prohibition dates back to the Glorious Revolution, the 1688-89 Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement 1700. Whatever the contemporary justification for those measures, in this day and age there can be no justification for maintaining the restriction on the religion of the spouse of a person in the line of succession. Such an anachronism is an injustice and ought to have no place in a modern country with a constitutional monarchy.

We are equally committed to ending the male primogeniture rule. It cannot be justified that individuals are discriminated against because of their gender, and that basic principle of equality is firmly established in most recent legislation. Modifying the succession rule will bring the British monarchy into a position similar to that of most other European monarchies—I hope that Members will consider that to be an argument in favour of the change. Hon. Members will note that gender equality in succession laws was achieved in Sweden in 1980, the Netherlands in 1983 and Norway and Belgium in the early 1990s. It was introduced in Denmark in 2006 and is anticipated before too long in Spain. The change is in tune with enlightened attitudes in many other European countries as well as here in the United Kingdom.

As we know, there have been many calls for gender equality in the royal succession over the years. Noble Lords and hon. Members have presented numerous Bills on the subject, and I refer in particular to those tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) in 2011, and before him by a previous Member for Battersea, now Lord Dubs. The latter Bill went further than the former, but many of the sentiments in those private Members’ Bills have now found voice in this Bill. I add that there has been extensive and positive consultation on it with the Opposition as well as with interested parties.

In the light of the hon. Gentleman’s words, perhaps he could tell us why, in 2004, when an attempt was made in the Lords to reform the succession, the Labour Government did all in their power to block it.

That is an interesting point, and I am sure there was a very good reason, but I do not think it is germane to our discussion today.

There has been extensive consultation on the Bill, and I note the consent of the Queen, as expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister at the start of the debate.

There is a third measure in the Bill that needs to be commented on. Although the Prime Minister did not refer to it in his statement to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth on 28 October 2011, it was referred to in his invitation to the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth, and the Government have recognised the need for the change. I refer to the requirement for all the descendants of George II to seek permission from the monarch to marry. In place of that, the Bill proposes a more limited requirement for the monarch to agree to the marriages of a specific number of individuals in the line of succession. That is surely a sensible proposal.

Does my hon. Friend really regard it as a sensible proposal? What percentage of our constituents does he think would accept an absolute prohibition from a relative on marrying the person of their choice?

We are talking about the monarch of the United Kingdom, not everybody else in the country. We have to acknowledge that we have a constitutional monarchy that is quite unique.

The origins of the current stipulation are in ancient common law, whereby the monarch has a duty and right of care relating to the upbringing of his or her close relatives. However, that was taken significantly further by the Royal Marriages Act 1772. Although that statute was promoted by George III’s antagonism towards the marriage of his two brothers to women whom he saw as unacceptable, it was drafted in such a way that it went much further than was necessary to respond to his immediate concerns. Indeed, the ramifications of that law mean that today literally hundreds of individuals are obliged to go through a formal legal process involving the monarch and the Privy Council to have their marriages approved. The Bill introduces a change so that any future prohibitions are of eligibility to the line of succession rather than of the marriage.

I do not question the proposed change, but I would nevertheless welcome clarification from the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), of why royal consent is now to be required for the first six people in line to the throne. I heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that it is a pragmatic move, but there has to be some rationale behind it. The constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor has suggested that the figure might be five, and others have suggested larger or smaller numbers. Perhaps the Minister could clarify why six has been the number chosen.

What does my hon. Friend think would happen to somebody who was No. 7 in line and then suddenly became No. 6?

That is an interesting hypothetical question, and I would certainly welcome the Minister’s response, as it is the Government who have put forward the figure of six.

Is it not the case that if somebody is in close proximity to the throne but wishes to contract a marriage with a member of the Catholic faith, or in future wishes to contract a marriage of which the monarch would not approve, they have every freedom to renounce their entitlement to the throne and remove themselves from the list of the six people in question?

I suppose it would be up to the individual to decide to do that, but we are talking not about the actions of an individual in certain circumstances but about what the law requires them to do.

I referred to the Commonwealth. We are pleased that the Government have received final agreement in writing from the other 15 Commonwealth realms. The agreement relates to the three elements of the Bill. We understand that to all intents and purposes, Parliament cannot change the Bill substantially, because if there were to be significant amendment the new text would have to be agreed by each Commonwealth realm. That would inevitably cause significant delay.

We are pleased that the Government have consulted the Opposition, and I thank the Minister for her courtesy. We have therefore agreed to the Government’s wish to expedite the legislative process. However, they have wisely recognised the mood of the House as expressed at the last Deputy Prime Minister’s questions and granted two days for the consideration of the Bill rather than one.

Is the hon. Gentleman asking the House to believe that faith and religion are now to become completely and totally disposable when it becomes convenient? If a future heir to the throne is raised in a faith different from that of Anglican, when it comes to the choice of retaining something that they believe in their heart, or having the prize of the throne, they could dispose of their faith. That is essentially what we are asking the nation to believe: in secularism, to a degree—that one’s faith no longer really matters.

With all due respect, I do not think that is the case. The Bill strikes a balance between modernity, which we accept we need to acknowledge, and recognising that the Church of England is central to the life of this country and its monarchy. I think a good balance has been struck and I am sure that some of the suggested unintended consequences of the Bill will be considered during our deliberations.

When my hon. Friend says “this country”, I presume he means England. As he knows, in the country where he and I live, the Church has been disestablished for 90 years, and happily so.

Disestablishment is, of course, a reality as both my hon. Friend and I readily acknowledge. We must recognise that the monarch has a different relationship with the Church of England and the Church in Wales, and my hon. Friend is right to point out that distinction.

I mentioned unintended consequences. Hon. Members have referred to the Duchy of Cornwall, but it seems to me that the letters patent would need to be altered if the duchy were to be automatically transferred to a female heir to the throne. Otherwise, it has been suggested that the heir apparent could be deprived of the source of revenue necessary to fulfil her responsibilities. I suspect that one or two hon. Members might welcome that, but many more would be concerned. I heard what the Deputy Prime Minister said, but I refer him to the deliberations of the Lords Constitution Committee which referred to that as a specific concern.

I did not intervene on my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on this issue so I will do so now. There are two possible options for the Duchy of Cornwall. One is that it is held by the Crown but does not entirely revert to it, and the revenue is passed on to a female heir. The second is that, as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, we somehow amend the original charters that established the duchy to allow the heir to hold it in their own right. That would, I think, be a more satisfactory solution given the other constitutional responsibilities of the Duke of Cornwall with regard to the constituency I represent.

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is correct, but if we are to have a package that is watertight and constitutionally thought through, consequences of that type should be addressed as a matter of importance.

A number of Members have referred to the important issue of the relationship between Church and state. According to the Bill, the heir to the throne would now be able to marry a Roman Catholic. It has been suggested that that has implications for the religious upbringing of a royal heir, which might prevent them from being in communion with the Church of England, and then from acceding to the throne. I have been reassured, however, as has the Deputy Prime Minister, that both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England have expressed confidence in the process that has been outlined.

As the Deputy Prime Minister said, Mr Richard Chapman, the Church of England’s secretary for parliamentary affairs, has written to Members with reference to the removal of the prohibition on the heir from marrying a Catholic, and it is worth quoting him again because it is of enormous significance. He said it is

“a welcome symbolic and practical measure, consistent with respect for the principle of religious liberty. It reflects the sea change in ecumenical relations over recent decades.”

That is extremely important and I hope it will reassure those Members who have expressed concerns.

It seems to me that we are in danger of considering the issues that have to be covered, such as those relating to the Duchy of Cornwall, after legislating rather than before. That is the problem. We are hoping that things will be done properly but we cannot guarantee that.

Of course we cannot guarantee it, but I have faith in the democratic process and the co-operation that exists across the House, and that these serious issues will be addressed properly. It is important that such matters are considered sensibly here as well as in the other place. I am sure that discussions will take place, and I hope that progress will be indicated before the Bill finishes its parliamentary passage.

Let me refer to an issue that is, in some ways, particular to the people of Wales: the title of Princess of Wales. Since 1301 the eldest male heir has usually been invested with the title of Prince of Wales, and as I understand it, that position is bestowed at the discretion of the monarch. Edward II did not invest his eldest son, the future Edward III, with the title, but investiture later became custom and practice. The position confers no automatic rights or responsibilities, but it follows that if there is to be no gender discrimination in the royal succession, consideration ought to be given to the title of Princess of Wales being given to a female heir apparent.

My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. He will recall from history that the title of Prince of Wales was the result of a promise that the people of Wales would have a King who could not speak a word of English. He could not speak a word of any language, including a word of Welsh. Is it sensible, with the pride of Wales at heart, to continue to perpetuate that royal confidence trick?

My reading of history is that when Llywelyn was defeated by Edward I, a promise was indeed made. The King of England at that time could not, of course, speak Welsh, but he could not speak English either. He spoke Norman French. It is important to make that point when considering such issues because it is easy for some people to translate modern ideas of nationality into mediaeval situations. It is important that the historical reality of the United Kingdom is recognised, and there is a specific niche for Wales with regard to the Prince of Wales, and hopefully, in future, for the Princess of Wales. If it were appropriate to have a Princess of Wales I hope that people in Wales would welcome such a development, and I ask the Minister whether she would welcome such a move.

The Bill is small yet has significant constitutional implications. It reinforces and extends a process of modernisation for our constitutional monarchy that has been under way for some time. The people of this country are, quite rightly, very supportive of the royal family and recognise that not only is the monarchy an important part of our nation’s heritage, it is also a vital element in defining the identity of Britain in the 21st century. The changes in this Bill will help to ensure that the monarchy continues to be an essential part of Britain’s future.

Order. We are going to introduce a 10-minute limit on speeches. It would be helpful if Members do not take up all that time or we will have to introduce a further cut to the time limit.

I rise not to arrest the regrettably heady speed of the passage of the Bill, but to join my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg)—he made a beautiful speech and would have found support in the Lobby had he pressed his amendments to a Division—and to ensure that the Government leave the House in no doubt about the effects of the Bill as they tinker away out of consideration of, we can assume, political correctness on the one hand and of the European convention on human rights on the other.

I am afraid that the genesis of the Bill is the “good wheeze” school of government. The doctrine is much in fashion, but it does not receive nearly rigorous or formidable enough scrutiny from the House. Although the proposals were a long time in gestation, they are not easy to construe, their consequences are not clear, and they have not become in any way current in normal public understanding, which they should have done, because the Bill touches on British history and tradition but succumbs to the passing enthusiasms of the 21st century. Above all, the proposals interfere with statutes that have slept for more than 300 years, and a common law rule of far greater antiquity. So seriously were these matters taken at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference that Ms Gillard was reported to have said to our Prime Minister on the day the measure was agreed, “Cheer up, Dave. It’s a great day for Sheilas everywhere.”

Therefore, Parliament is more than usually obliged to seek from the Government a clear understanding of what is involved, because we touch today on customs and traditions that go back far beyond the great parliamentary conflicts of the 17th century and will change a system that has stood this extraordinary country in great stead down the generations. For more than 1,000 years, except for the 11 years of the Cromwellian interregnum, England has never been without a sovereign. For 1,000 years, the Crown has been the key to our nationhood and has served to implant down the generations the habit of feeling and acting together in national matters. The Crown has proved to be a most effective means for preserving and strengthening the country’s cohesion and stability. It is and always has been the unifying principle that unites the national family.

When an English sovereign succeeds to the throne, they inherit 1,000 years of unbroken monarchical heritage. These are not, therefore, matters to be treated lightly, nor ones to be trifled with, and, not surprisingly, there has therefore been some confusion about what the Bill is and is not about. The Government, as always, but particularly when dealing with sometimes ill-thought-out constitutional matters, must be aware of the unwanted, unintended consequences that often flow from tinkering with such legislation. They could damage the crucial relationship between Church and state as well as peerage law, and possibly interfere with accepted conventions and laws reaching back down the times.

Consequent to the Bill—this is why my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset was completely right to ask for the House to have more time to deal with the matter—a large number of Acts will require the House’s attention and amendment, including the Bill of Rights 1689; the Act of Settlement 1701; the Union with Scotland Act 1706; the Coronation Oath Act 1688; Princess Sophia’s Precedence Act 1711; the Royal Marriages Act 1772; the Union with Ireland Act 1800; the Accession Declaration Act 1910; and the Regency Act 1937. Those are not things to be consigned to the dustbin of history at the flick of a pen; they require the detailed attention of the House and respect for the part they have played in the architecture of the constitution of this country, which is the guarantee of stability in difficult times.

Although I support the proposals both to make royal primogeniture gender blind—England, after all, has been extremely lucky with its Queens—and to restrict the reach and impact of royal approval for marriage of potential heirs, I should like to ask the Government two important questions, the first of which arises from the fact that there is at least a presumption, if not an obligation, that children in mixed Catholic marriages should be brought up in the Catholic faith. Will the Government assure this House that, in removing the Catholic marriage disqualification, the Bill in no way makes it more likely that a Catholic will become eligible to succeed to the throne, and explain why? If, for example, a young and popular heir is brought up as a Catholic, would it not in practice, never mind the existing law, be difficult to stand in the way of their succeeding?

Secondly, anticipating the very considerable and entirely understandable trouble that my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will have in their lordships’ House, where their lordships will do what they do so well, can this House be assured that the proposed changes to the primogeniture rule for royal succession do not in any way pre-empt whether the same changes should apply to the separate rules for the descent of hereditary titles of honour?

I repeat that these are not matters to be treated lightly. They are very serious and touch on the architecture of the foundation of the law and settlement in this country. I will support the Government on Second Reading, but I urge them to explain in considerable detail—in more detail—what is involved and what consequential changes to other legislation are required as a result of the Bill.

I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the voice of British conservatism. It seems extraordinary that a Member of this House should refer to the equal treatment of women as one of the House’s passing enthusiasms. That is one of the great changes that have taken place in our generation. It is a joy to see the increased number of women who sit in the House, and the wider mixture of races, colours and creeds.

There is no need for the Bill to be rushed through. If the date were removed from the Bill, we would have years to consider it. There is no question that the royal child will be ready to take the throne for many decades. We have all that time in which to create a Bill that is reasonable, fair and sustainable for the decades to come.

I have the great honour to represent the constituency where the last riot designed to set up a republic took place. In 1839 in the streets of Newport, a group of Chartists arranged to charge a place where they thought a Chartist prisoner was being held. They then intended to stop the post, which was to be a signal to the rest of the country that they intended to set up a republic. At the time, the country was not one to which the description given by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) could be applied, as it was a country of great deprivation, great injustice and terrible poverty.

The Chartists were protesting against the system as it was at the time, under a monarchy. That is not to say that monarchy is necessarily a bad system, but we cannot ignore the years in which our monarchs, many of whom did not speak English, behaved as tyrants. For some years now, there has been a division between the Commons and the monarchy, symbolised in the House’s tradition of slamming the door on the monarch’s representative when he comes to the House to deliver the summons to hear her speak. This is crucial to us: it is part of our democracy and character.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the part of our history of which we in this democratic Chamber should be most proud is the story of those who worked to establish socialist reforms. What is special about our democracy and admired throughout the world is the fact that we have free speech, we have a welfare state, and we have a sense of fairness and fair play—but all those reforms were hard-won.

The hon. Gentleman just asked what is special about our monarchy. One answer, perhaps, is that we do not tinker with it.

We are tinkering with it today. It must be a matter of some concern, but we are tinkering with it. Pandora’s box is open now, and having tinkered with one part of it, we can tinker with other parts of it.

Many Acts, including and especially the 1701 Act of Settlement, are nothing other than tinkering.

Indeed, absolutely. They were based on the prejudices of the past. To look at our history, we can go through the length of this building and see representations of royalty in portraits, coats or arms and statues—there must be at least a thousand—but where would we look to find mementos of the work of the Chartists, the Levellers or the suffragettes? There are precious few, yet they, not royalty, were the ones who contributed to the development of our democracy.

I have been wondering about this tinkering business that we heard about from the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). Can my hon. Friend point out to that hon. Gentleman that Richard II, Edward II, Richard III, Henry VI, Edward IV and Edward VIII—at least; I have left several out, no doubt—were removed expressly by or through the intervention of Parliament. It is a long-established tradition that the succession is a matter for Parliament.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) is the victim of a romantic delusion that history does not support. We should take pride in the traditions of this House.

What we have before us is a piece of rushed legislation, and we all know legislation introduced in haste usually turns out to be bad legislation. Take the idea that we modernise the system by retaining in it the right for a relative to determine that people should not be allowed to marry the person they love. That is not modern; it is another anachronism from the distant past, but we are retaining it and allowing the monarch to have absolute power over the love lives of six relatives. That seems extraordinary. Who put that in? Who decided that that was a good idea?

One problem with the Bill is its narrowness, which means that we cannot discuss the interesting amendments that have been tabled, including one I mentioned briefly earlier that would allow the country a choice. We are in the position, when we look to the next Head of State, of being infantilised by our own Ministers. We are told that certain letters cannot be published because if they were they would imperil the status of the next monarch. Well, if they do, we should hear about that. If there is a doubt in those letters, why on earth can we not, as the elected representatives of the people, have those letters published? Yet the Government recently decided, in spite of a court ruling and a freedom of information ruling, that those letters from the heir to the throne should remain absolutely secret, because if we saw them we might decide that perhaps he is not the right person to be on the throne. What can the country do?

We are still enshrining the mediaeval idea that it is the son—now the daughter, which is a slight improvement—who will inherit, but why not other members of the family? Would not the country like a choice? In a world of referendums and choice, it would be sensible for us to consider a Bill that would allow the country to decide who will have the vital role of Head of State, looking at the situation in about 20 years’ time, when all sorts of factors will be in play. Should it be the heir? Should it be another member of the royal family? Or should it be citizen A. N. Other? I believe that the country might like the choice.

I am very grateful for the chance to speak in this debate. Like all Members of the House of Commons, I think, I will support the Bill, but I believe we have to bear in mind the points that have been made. On religious grounds, the Bill strengthens the prejudice of the past by not allowing all citizens the chance to become monarch. An amendment was tabled to try to future-proof the measure, saying that in the future there might be an inheritor to the throne who decides on a same-sex marriage. What would the situation be then? Would the progeny of that marriage, either by adoption or artificial insemination, be next in line? One could see advantages in bringing new blood into the royal line, which we have seen successfully recently.

There are many aspects to the law of succession that we need to consider. This is not a full modernisation; it is a tinkering. I believe that pressure has probably been put on the Government to ensure that this reform is very limited. In it are the seeds of future problems that will be obvious in the years ahead.

I rise to support this important constitutional Bill. Even though the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and I do not agree on very much, I think we share admiration and affection for Her Majesty the Queen and what she has done for the country.

The Bill is making history in provisions that I believe are long overdue. I will speak more specifically to clause 1. In 2002, just after I finished working in the royal household, I published an article saying that the Queen Mother’s death would be a catalyst of change in the monarchy and the nation. I remember the time when people lined the streets, others queued for hours at the lying in state in Westminster Hall, many signed books of condolence and millions watched the service. Those were simple signs of deep respect, love and admiration for someone who had touched their lives. Why? The Queen Mother stood for history, service and duty; she embodied a century of experiences, inventions and discoveries, times of war and times of peace. It showed that the British people care deeply about their past, and about history and tradition. Now, 11 years later, we are considering this important change.

Why should we make this change? Partly, it is a legacy for the Queen and the Queen Mother—a legacy of respect for what they have done. Perhaps it is also to reach out to women across the nation to say how much we value women and what they do. No one can doubt the tremendous impact that the Queen has had in her 60-year reign. We need only look at last year’s diamond jubilee to see the huge public support that Her Majesty still has in this country and elsewhere. More than 15 million people in the United Kingdom watched the celebrations on their television screens and the jubilee was thought to have brought more than £1 billion to the economy. More than 2 billion people across the world—about a third of the global population—watched the most recent royal wedding. What those occasions brought to Britain was an increased sense of unity and pride in being British.

Let us not forget the Princess Royal, who has played a full part and cannot be faulted in her role as a senior member of the royal family, absolutely committed to supporting the charities and voluntary organisations she works with. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) said, even though he has concerns about this Bill, this country has had wonderful examples of Queens and we should build on that.

As for the succession to the Crown, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) talked about the Queen of England. As someone who was born in London but brought up in Scotland, I would like to remind him that Her Majesty is not just Queen of England. She is Her Majesty Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories.

May I correct the hon. Lady? The Queen is not Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom; she is Queen Elizabeth I of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Lady referred to Her Majesty being the Queen of Scotland as well. So far, none of the Ministers has referred to any consultations with the Church of Scotland about this. I wonder whether the hon. Lady knows whether there have been any such consultations.

I have no knowledge of whether those discussions have taken place, but I am sure that the Minister will respond in due course.

As we have discussed, succession to the throne is currently based on the principle of male primogeniture, according to which male heirs take precedence and the right of succession belongs to the eldest son. However, many countries, including Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, have already changed that so that the right of succession passes to the sovereign’s eldest child, irrespective of gender. I believe it is now time for change in this country, too, especially when former female monarchs have played an outstanding role in our history and at a time when women are playing such an important role in society. There is agreement among the general public that the rule of primogeniture in particular should change, thereby showing that the monarchy is continuing to adapt to modern times.

There have been many attempts to amend Crown succession over the years—one parliamentary paper lists 12 private Members’ Bills, from Members in all parts of the House, that have attempted to do so since 1979. Therefore, this is a Bill that can be supported by many Members of the House across the different parties. As has been mentioned, the marriage of His Royal Highness Prince William and Kate Middleton and their subsequent announcement that, God willing, they will have a child in six months’ time, provides further impetus to make these changes once and for all.

Some have commented on the timing and the process of change of which this Bill is a part, but since this issue was raised—many raised it in years gone by before it was raised at the meeting in Perth on 28 October 2011—there has been a process of external discussion and debate for the last 15 months. As we can see, the Chamber is not full today, and I hope that everyone who wishes to speak will get a chance to do so. I therefore feel that there has been appropriate time to consider the issues, given the scope of the Bill.

In today’s modern world, where there is a conscious focus on equal opportunities and breaking the glass ceiling, it would seem realistic to expect that the succession principle will be challenged. The Government have done a lot of work trying to get more women on boards, more women in Parliament and more women to set up businesses and, of course, we have had a female Prime Minister.

I am sure that we all draw reassurance from the fact that we have had a great female Prime Minister, who achieved many things for this country.

An important purpose of the Bill is to show the importance of the role of women across the land, in the monarchy and elsewhere. It sets an example. It is time for a change and we should make that change now. I am sure that the general public will join me in wishing the monarchy of this country many more centuries of success and prosperity.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod). I agree with what she said about the Queen, who is held in very high respect. I remember that, in my childhood, she was a frequent visitor to the Hebrides, which of course testifies to her good sense and to the loyalty of many in the Hebrides, including myself, to the Queen and to her ongoing reign. Long may it last.

We all agree that, while human understanding has progressed over the past 300 years, the rules governing the succession to the Crown have not kept pace with that. The present monarch is happily the Queen of 16 realms, a shared monarchy of many independent countries. The Commonwealth countries, which comprise a quarter of the nations of the Earth, maintain a looser social affiliation with the monarchy.

We should perhaps reflect on how we got to this point. The Union of the Crowns came about in 1603. Had that been the only Union that we were considering today, I would indeed be a happy Unionist, because the monarch of Scotland took the Crown off England. Many would argue from a legal perspective that that would leave Scotland the successor state, given that the monarchy follows the Stuart line, rather than the Tudor line. That is an argument for another day, however.

Would the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Tudor line began with Henry VII, who was a Welshman?

I would be happy to acknowledge that. That was probably one of the few times when the Welsh beat the Scots. They certainly will not beat them in the rugby this spring. But we digress once more.

Had Scotland maintained its political independence, we could have kept the kingdoms united, but not the Parliaments. The Act of Settlement of 1701 was disliked by many for religious reasons, but it was also the precipitator of the tawdry political Union of 1707, which, with the help of the coercive Alien Act of 1705 and in concert with straightforward bribery, brought about the union of the two Parliaments.

At the time of the Act of Union in 1707, were not a lot of the Scottish nobles—for want of a better word—bankrupt? Some people might think that that is where the coercion came in.

The hon. Gentleman reminds me of the words of Burns. Those people were “bought and sold for English gold”. That gives me an idea about taking people back—the 150 who have a vested interest in Westminster, for example. All that Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government need to do is buy and sell them for Scottish gold. If the vested interests could be bought off in that way, we might bring about independence a bit earlier.

It was the Scottish reaction to the Act of Settlement of 1701 that led to the events that I was describing. The motivator was the desire not for a political superstate but for a unitary monarchy, and the question had to be decided before the death of Queen Anne. Fortunately, for the benefit of the House, the Scottish National party can allay the fears created by the Act of Settlement: the monarchy will continue to be shared with Scotland and England, and the need for the Acts of 1706 in England and 1707 in Scotland will disappear. We can therefore proceed to independence and dissolve the two Unions. I am sure that I am alone in this Chamber in holding that belief, but I am not alone in Scotland in so doing.

I do not have Her Majesty on my text message list, but if she wanted to drop me an e-mail, I would be happy to respond to it. However, I do know that her personal private secretary is a visitor to the Hebrides and has relatives there. The links are indeed multi-faceted, as the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth can testify. She, too, has links with the Hebrides and has worked in the royal household. As we can see, the monarchy reaches us all in many ways.

History aside, the Bill is surely flawed. Many people have described how flawed it is. It is only a halfway house —a real dog’s breakfast of broken biscuits. It deals with succession and partially with freedom of religion, but it leaves the question of full freedom of religion untouched. It also leaves with the monarch the bizarre, arcane requirement for marital approval of six people in the line of succession. Some cultures have an adaptation of that requirement in the form of arranged marriages, but here in Westminster, we are institutionalising it.

The Bill affects other realms as well, and I wonder whether they will progress further than this Parliament and deal with this issue more fully, rather than having a halfway house, waiting for Westminster to catch up—as it inevitably will some day. They are free and independent, and by doing so they will save themselves an immense amount of time and hassle in the future, but they will also signal their fairness and egalitarianism to the wider world. Indeed, in Australia, republican zest seems to appear from time to time.

It should be noted that in 1999, the Scottish Parliament pushed for a motion for the removal of any discrimination linked to the monarchy and the repeal of the Act of Settlement. So progressive opinion—at least in Scotland—is 14-years-old before this issue has come to Westminster. While there may be a lot of huff and puff here at Westminster about allowing the monarchy to be Catholic, practically, I do not think it really matters. I do not think that the current or future royals are likely to convert to Catholicism, any more than would the King of Norway or the Queen of Denmark. The fact that a Parliament has gone to such lengths to discriminate against a certain faith group is surely odd in an international context. No doubt it will be ripe for lampooning, perhaps on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” on CNN because it is a step back and truly bizarre. I am sure that history will judge it as bizarre, especially when we think that such contrary views existed in the Scottish Parliament 14 years ago. I am not sure whether bans on Catholics exist in Denmark and Norway—if they are so allergic to the idea—or whether bans against Protestants exist in Spain. Surely there is enough smeddum and sense in those societies to remove such proscriptions.

Equally, I hope that other monarchies do not hold the power over their relatives’ choice of spouse—a power that is rightly alien to their subjects when it comes to their nearest and dearest. When Scotland becomes independent in the next few years, we will certainly retain the monarch, as Canada, New Zealand and Australia have done, but we shall remove such infantile restrictions as we see here today. We will wait until the keystone Parliament—in a way Westminster will always be that mainly due to the residency of the monarch in close proximity to it—catches up. In the meantime, we can look forward to saying, “God save the Queen of an independent Scotland”.

It is a pleasure to follow a number of excellent speakers in the debate, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod). It is a rare privilege to speak in a debate so important and so long lasting in its effects as a Bill to change the succession to the Crown. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that this debate is of enormous importance, so having more time could be justified, but I hope that all the important views expressed in the debate will be heard clearly by the Government and that they will be able to respond in a reassuring way.

Perhaps only once in a couple of centuries, as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) pointed out, does an opportunity like this arise. In this country and on the continent, wars have been fought over royal successions, and in England we owe the birth of our political party system to a debate on succession. The Tory and Whig parties, which dominated the politics of the 18th century, were forged in the fire of the exclusion crisis of 1681, some aspects and implications of which have already been touched on today. As I alluded to in my maiden speech, I believe that our monarchy is one of this country’s great constitutional treasures. Its terms are not to be changed lightly and its history, stretching back over 1,000 years beyond 1066 to King Alfred and the Saxon kings, is something of which we are constantly reminded in this extraordinary building.

The most significant clause of today’s Bill will make a change that many believe is long overdue—equalising the right of women to succeed to the throne with that of men. I believe that this change is more than justified by the example of our current monarch. I do not believe that this is an example of political correctness, but one of learning from the examples that history and our recent experience can offer.

Indeed, through the long history of England and of the United Kingdom we have been blessed with some magnificent examples of female leadership in our monarchs. Perhaps in part because the opportunities were so rare, it has tended to be the case throughout world history that the queens who managed to overcome the obstacles of male-dominated institutions and laws have tended to be exceptional people. Overseas examples such as Maria Theresa of Austria or Catherine the Great of Russia made a lasting mark on their countries.

In England, the reign of the first Elizabeth was a period of trial and crowning glory, with the firm establishment of the Reformation, the defeat of the armada and the beginnings of England’s global influence. The reign of Anne saw the great victories of Marlborough, the establishment of the Protestant succession, and the famous bounty that endowed so many beautiful churches built by Wren across the city of London. The reign of Queen Victoria saw the apogee of Britain’s power and influence, the universal male franchise, and the construction of the very building in which we stand today—a glorious celebration of the union of Crown and Parliament.

However, perhaps more than any of those, it is our monarch today who enables us to see how valuable the role of female leadership can be. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth beautifully illustrated the importance of the Queen’s role and influence here at home. Our Queen, who celebrated her diamond jubilee so successfully last year—when, indeed, she visited Worcester, her “faithful city”—has played a particularly vital role in building and holding together a Commonwealth of nations, which form an unbelievably valuable network for the United Kingdom in the 21st century. She has calmly presided over dramatic changes that saw the constitutions of other countries overturned, and has provided a thread of continuity through one of the most dynamic and fast-moving periods in world history. Her wisdom and experience have proved equal or superior to those of any imaginable man placed in the same role, and the great charm with which she has conducted her reign has ensured the continuing attachment of the British people—and many other peoples around the world—to our monarchy.

When the first Elizabeth faced her moment of crisis, she reassured her people by saying:

“I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king”.

Our own Elizabeth has never needed to make such an apology for being female, and, in an age in which monarchs are no longer expected to lead their troops into battle but are expected to provide leadership and inspiration from a distance, she has proved beyond all doubt her ability to do both.

I mentioned the enormous value of the Commonwealth, and I welcome the fact that today’s debate is informed by extensive negotiations and discussions in that forum. In making their decisions on the Bill, Members can be reassured that the changes under discussion will have the support of other Commonwealth realms, and that they will strengthen and not endanger the bonds that Queen Elizabeth II has so painstakingly built with the nations of the Commonwealth.

I share some of the concerns that have been expressed today—particularly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset—about other aspects of the Bill, and I think it important for the Government to respond to them carefully. It seems strange to remove one discrimination against Catholics by enabling them to marry into the royal family while retaining another by not enabling them to inherit. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing), however, made an important point about the ability of individuals, particularly adults, to make their own choices in that regard.

On balance, I think that this is a strong, simple Bill to update succession to the Crown. I especially welcome its most important provision, which will ensure that in future generations we can have more diamond queens, and perhaps more examples of the sort with which our British female monarchs have already been able to provide the world.

Three and a half centuries ago, my constituency of Worcester was the scene of the bloody battles that began and ended the English civil war. People who laid down their lives on both sides of those battles would view today’s proceedings with some approval. On one hand, the tens of thousands who fought for Parliament would see a Parliament infinitely more democratic than the one of their day, with the ability to rule on the royal succession and to engage in free debate on the matter. On the other hand, those who fought for Church and King—the “faithful city”, and its faithful citizens—would see the beginnings of another chapter in our monarchy, for which so many fought and died. As Member of Parliament for the “faithful city”, I am happy to support the Bill.

It is a great delight to follow the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). He is a sort of hereditary MP himself, so he knows a little bit about “hereditary”—and we have a few of them around. I was not entirely sure where he was going with the “diamond queen” thing; “diamond geezers” was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan).

I wholeheartedly support one of the main principles of the Bill, namely the change in the male preference primogeniture rules that have come to us through common law. We have taken far too long to resolve the issue. Other countries with constitutional monarchies got on with it much earlier: Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands all dealt with it in the 1980s. Indeed, it was much more difficult for Sweden, because at the time the heir to the throne was a boy, Carl Philip, who was ousted from his hereditary status by his older sister Victoria. Sweden took a more courageous decision and we have been rather slow, perhaps because we have felt so confident about our current monarch. So I support the change in the Bill but I do have some worries. A great deal of reference has been made to Pandora’s box, but that is the wrong image to use, because at the bottom of that box was always hope.

The more worrying concern is that when we pull out one of the threads of the constitution, there is a danger of unravelling the whole jumper—if the jumper is indeed made out of threads. I worry because the religion of the monarch in this country depends on a suite of legislation. The Coronation Oath Act 1688 makes it clear in precisely what words the monarch shall accept the throne and what oath they shall make at their coronation. That was reformed in the 20th century and, in fact, Her Majesty the Queen did not use the prescribed oath, as laid down in legislation. We need to address that issue; in the past Parliament has decided what the oath should be, not the monarch.

Several hon. Members in the Chamber have examined the issues involved, as have many others, who are busy elsewhere, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that out in the country at large there will be little understanding of them? This is perhaps part of the problem. Our constitutional history is fascinating, but if we had a far more transparent and, dare I say it, written constitution, people might understand more deeply what we are talking about.

I have always been in favour of a written constitution, but that is not what we are debating. The important job of work that we have to do when we write elements of our constitution into statute is to make sure that they meet any possible eventualities that could come down the road, because we can never imagine precisely what is going to happen. In 1936, we had a crisis because there were no means by which the monarch could abdicate, so we had the odd situation where the monarch announced his abdication and the next day legislation had to be got through the House. As was said earlier, that took only 10 minutes, but none the less we had to make legislation on the hoof.

The Act of Settlement contains two clauses that make different provisions in relation to the monarch. As the hon. Member for 1642 said, section II says that anyone 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 excluded from the succession. So I raise the genuine point: if someone marries a Roman Catholic in a Catholic church—the Minister said that Her Majesty has been to a Roman Catholic church—it is difficult to see how that person is not then reconciled to the See of Rome. I hope that the Church of England will be reconciled to the See of Rome. The advances we have seen in ecumenism over the years do not just mean that we have rejected the ludicrous prejudice that there was about Catholicism and the belief that somehow or other a Catholic could not be a patriot. We need to go further, and I hope that in the ecumene of all the Churches there will be reconciliation one day. I know that that is the view of the most recent Archbishop of Canterbury and I suspect it is the view of the current one, so it would seem odd if it were not then the view of the monarch. I want to start asking whether we do not need to change all the provisions in relation to the religion of the monarch. As an Anglican, I would have no fear of a Roman Catholic who accepted a series of oaths to protect the Church of England, as established by law—

In 1960, President Kennedy, a Catholic, took an oath and it did not commit him, in any way, to being against non-Catholics.

No, but that was a big issue in the election of that period. The situation is somewhat different in America, as it has a clear division of state and religion whereas this country expressly does not. We have two established Churches in this country: the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. [Interruption.] Yes, the Church of Scotland is established by law.

That is always an issue of debate. As I understand it, the Church of Scotland does not see itself as the established Church and takes great pride in that fact. I hate to correct my hon. Friend on such an issue, because I know that he is an expert.

No, no—I am not a Calvinist. I merely point out to my right hon. Friend that one of the provisions of the 1706 and 1707 Acts of Union is that the monarch, when accepting the Scottish throne, has to make a separate accession oath that guarantees the protection of the Church of Scotland. That is why I say that several provisions in law relate to the religion of the monarch. Section III of the Act of Settlement states that the monarch

“shall joyn in Communion with the Church of England”.

That is yet another provision.

Surely the position is that although the Church of Scotland is not and never has been established in the sense that the Church of England is, with a degree of parliamentary control, it is a national Church in Scotland and the Queen attends the Presbyterian Church in Scotland and takes communion within that Church. That is where her Scottish allegiance lies, rather than with the Scottish Episcopal Church.

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will give way to the hon. Lady; it is not male primogeniture any more.

I believe that the website of the royal household states that the Church of Scotland is established, but that Her Majesty is an ordinary member and not its Supreme Governor.

Yes, but that does not change the fact that when somebody becomes monarch, they have to make an accession oath on the Church of Scotland. That is my only point. We have a suite of legislation and once we start pulling at one of the elements of it there is a danger we will unpack the whole lot.

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I have given way rather too often already.

I would quite like to change things as I think there are many different ways of being an established Church. I do not want to disestablish the Church of England, but I think that it could be established in a different way.

I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Let me move on to the Royal Marriages Act. The Act came into being because George III’s brother, Henry, Duke of Cumberland, had in 1771 married a woman, Mrs Anne Horton, who was not only a widow but a commoner. Horace Walpole thought that

“her coquetry was so active, so varied and yet so habitual, that it was difficult not to see through it and…difficult to resist it.”

It was on those lines, broadly speaking, that the King was opposed to his brother’s marriage. Once the Act was introduced, he learned that his other brother, William, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, had married Maria Walpole, daughter of Sir Edward Walpole and granddaughter of Sir Robert, who was also a widow and, in addition to all the other problems she might have had, was illegitimate.

The King was somewhat scandalised by all that and the Act was brought in, but it was a phenomenal failure as a piece of legislation because in 1785 the Prince of Wales, George III’s son, married Maria Fitzherbert, who was not only a Roman Catholic but the aunt of a cardinal and who was twice widowed. The King was furious and refused to give consent; the marriage was consequently declared null and void, although even at the moment of his death the former Prince of Wales insisted on having the portrait of Maria Fitzherbert around his neck. In 1793, another relative, Prince Augustus Frederick, had his marriage to Lady Augusta Murray declared invalid. When she died, he married illegally yet again without permission of the throne.

The Act has been a phenomenally unsuccessful piece of legislation and I do not understand why we are keeping any element of it. Why should the monarch decide who their next of kin and the five others who come afterwards should be able to marry and on what basis will they make that decision? All the previous decisions have related to whether someone was a commoner, an actress or illegitimate, and I do not think that any of those issues would concern the British people today. In other countries that still have a similar provision it is not the decision of the monarch—it is the decision of Parliament. Indeed, in the Netherlands, it was decided that one person would be excluded from the succession because of their marriage. Personally, I do not think that we should make those decisions at all.

It is bizarre to insist on six members of the royal family in the line of succession, rather than two, five, 25 or whatever. I urge the Minister to explain why she feels that it is important to keep that provision. If we are going to keep it, there should be a role for Ministers to advise the monarch on whether to refuse consent. Otherwise, someone who was No. 7 will suddenly become No. 6, or someone who was No. 6 may suddenly become No. 7—as will happen later this year. Those people would be free to marry in whatever way they wanted if they were not No. 6.

I warmly support the broad thrust of the two main measures in the Bill, but I am worried that where the Government are going will unpick other things that we should look at in the round, not just in a short Bill.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. It has been a great pleasure to listen to it. I have heard some excellent speeches, made by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), with whom I profoundly disagree, and by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), with whom, frighteningly, I find much common cause—it is as frightening for me as it is for him. I was impressed, too, by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), with whom I very much agree. He does not speak so much for the Conservative party as for the constitution, and we all honour him for that.

I am profoundly pleased that I have had an opportunity to speak before my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), because I suspect—I shall allow him to speak for himself—that when we hear him speak he will not prove himself to be so much a scion of high Toryism as a dangerous radical. We very much look forward to hearing what he says in the fullness of time.

I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate, because the intention of the Bill is laudable and sensible, as it will update the rules on the succession to the Crown so that they are in keeping with the modern values of our people. A monarch must reign with consent: that is the case now, and it must be the case in future. The Bill removes unnecessary discrimination, and it tidies up what we might call the sinuous tentacles of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which is welcome. However, I should like to make a couple of points about the Bill’s provisions, which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister, in the absence of the Deputy Prime Minister, will be able to address so that I do not have to make them again in Committee.

In that positive spirit, I shall address the question of retrospection in clause 2. I am instinctively against retrospective legislation, no matter how good the intent might be. Clause 2 attempts to restore to the line of succession those people who have married Catholics down the years. I quite accept that we should remove the disqualification bar preventing people who have married Catholics from succeeding to the Crown, but in making those changes—the Earl of St Andrews, for example, and Prince Michael of Kent will be restored to the line of succession—we are changing the order of succession. Those further away than the Earl and Prince Michael are pushed further from the line of succession by the changes. If we are prepared to make changes to the order of succession by dint of restoring Catholics to that order, is it not right that we make clause 1 retrospective, so that female heirs of the Queen move up the order of succession? Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, is the only living person who would be affected, together with her heirs, so it would not be a massive change to the order of succession, but it would be a logical change and one in keeping with the retrospective nature of part of the Bill.

The second aspect that I wish to address relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda about the Royal Marriages Act 1772. I find myself, strangely enough, making common cause with him. Although I agree that we should remove the Act or change it so that there are not thousands of people to whose marriage the Queen could technically give or withhold consent, it is odd that clause 3 states that

“the 6 persons next in the line of succession to the Crown must obtain the consent of Her Majesty before marrying.”

Where did the number six come from? Why not three, five or 12? Six is not a prime number, a biblical number or a lucky number.

The only thing that springs to mind is that if we add up the number in the Queen’s family and the number in Prince Charles’s family, we get six. That is the long and the short of it, I think.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s arithmetic, flawed though it may be. Perhaps that is why he is a member of the Scottish National party. I look forward to the Minister explaining what the rationale is.

As the hon. Member for Rhondda rightly pointed out, if we put in place a rule that says that the monarch can and must give consent to the marrying of the six persons nearest in line to the throne, imagine a scenario where a monarch has three children, who each have two or three children. The monarch will soon be in the invidious position where grandchild No. 4, who is fifth in line to the throne, must seek consent of the monarch to marry, but grandchild No. 6, who is seventh in line to the throne, need not seek that consent. That does not seem fair.

Also, we do not have a capricious monarch at present, but there have certainly been capricious monarchs in the past who might deliberately want to affect the succession and might therefore refuse consent capriciously. There is no means in the Act whereby anybody can prevent the monarch from exercising their judgment capriciously so as directly to exclude a particular person. Surely in the end the monarch should be decided either by straightforward succession or by Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman may well be thinking of capricious monarchs such as Edward II. The 1772 Act, which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset may prove to be a dead Act in any case, allows for any member of the royal family over the age of 25, having sought the approval of the Privy Council, after a year then to seek the consent of Parliament to their marriage. The Bill tightens up the rules significantly. Parliament and the Privy Council play no part in the matter. The monarch can choose or choose not to give consent to the marriage, whatever the age of a member of the royal family within the rules of succession. So the hon. Gentleman has a good point.

I would be interested to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister why these changes have been proposed. If the point is for the monarch to have some control and leverage over those members of the royal family who are active and who are Royal Highnesses, why choose the number six? It is a narrow number. Why not simply say that the heirs of Queen Elizabeth II should have to ask consent of the monarch? That would be a nod towards the present Act, which recognises George II as the fount of all consent, as it were. It would honour Her Majesty in her diamond jubilee year. It would regularise the situation and give that sort of control to future monarchs. The Minister might be about to say that it would mean that in 200 or 300 years there could be hundreds or thousands of people to whom the monarch would have to give consent, but I suspect that no one here will be particularly concerned about that then—if nothing else has crumbled, our headstones almost certainly will have done.

I support the Bill in broad terms and shall vote to give it a Second Reading, but I hope that the Minister will take on board the concerns that I and other Members of the House have raised to ensure that it is robust; will stand the test of time; recognises and can deal with any unforeseen and foreseen consequences; and provides us with a settled settlement.-

I rise to speak briefly in this debate. I very much welcome the provision in the Bill that will mean that a younger brother will no longer be preferred to an older sister in the succession to the Crown. It is long overdue. It is an important step on the long and tortuous trek to greater equality of opportunity between men and women in our society. It is a reminder that, in modernising the centuries of tradition, custom and practice that we have all absorbed as part of our upbringing, we need to look at all aspects of our lives and our society in order to develop a society that affords greater equality between men and women.

It is easy to forget, because Her Gracious Majesty has had such a long and successful reign, that had she had brothers, she would not have become Queen unless they and their children had passed away before her. It is welcome that women and men will now be treated equally in the succession to the throne. It gets rid of one more prejudice and sets a good example.

I welcome the clause that allows a potential heir to marry a Roman Catholic without losing the right to succeed to the throne, because that removes a particular religious prejudice. As has been pointed out, marriage to people of other faiths does not disqualify someone from succeeding to the throne. However, the clause raises a question about the religion of any children of that marriage. Whatever religion they are brought up in, and regardless of whether they have any deeply held religious beliefs, they have to become a member of the Church of England in order to remain in line to the throne. Is that a reasonable requirement? Does it not mean that people will simply pay lip service to religion? Is it reasonable for the monarch, our Head of State, to be obliged to be a defender of the faith and to have a specific role in the Church of England? We would not have to worry about whether potential heirs to the throne were brought up in any particular faith, or indeed no faith, if we did not expect the monarch to be an adherent of one particular faith.

We all know the historic reasons for that situation and why the Head of State is expected to be an Anglican, but we now live in very different times. We live in a society in which there are many different religious views. In the UK today, apart from the centuries-old Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, we have a non-conformist tradition that is hundreds of years old. We have people of many other faiths and many people who do not have a faith at all. The Church of England is not the established Church of the whole United Kingdom. In response to the rise of non-conformists in Wales, the Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920, and there has not been an established Church in Northern Ireland since 1871.

The clause is a missed opportunity. It misses the opportunity to decouple the role of monarch from a specific role in the Church of England, which will continue to prevent anyone of any other faith or none from succeeding to the throne. It seems to me that we cannot legislate for someone’s faith. If someone has a faith, they have a faith, and if they do not, they do not, but if someone is expected to take on the role of monarch, we are putting them in a situation in which they will have to pay lip service to a faith, possibly one in which they do not believe, making a mockery of those who have a true faith.

I completely fail to understand the clause about the six persons next in line to the throne requiring the monarch’s consent to marriage. Having had so much equality legislation, we are now legislating for someone to be prejudiced, whether on a personal basis or for any reason, out of jealousy or spite. The clause seems to make absolutely no sense.

Yes, we very much welcome the opportunity for an elder sister to be preferred over her younger brother in the succession to the throne, but I have serious questions about other clauses and the opportunities that could have been taken to do things better.

I rise to speak in support of the Succession to the Crown Bill. I will not detain the House for too long; I will focus my remarks on a significant change—that the gender of a child born after 28 October 2011 will have no relevance in determining the succession to the throne.

We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), a man of great knowledge whom we listened to with great interest. He said that a number of the statutes that the Bill may affect had been asleep for 300 years or so. He may have a point, but it is possible to wake statutes up from their slumber from time to time, rearrange them slightly, improve their sleeping positions and let them settle down and drift off to sleep again until further improvement is required.

Some may say that in 2013 the changes are overdue or at the very least timely, not least in the wake of Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee celebrations last year and the fine example of leadership set by Her Majesty the Queen; I hope to return to that subject in due course.

The Bill makes changes that reflect not only examples of successful female monarchs but the reality of working life across the country; I think particularly of my own constituency. In Erewash, there is a long-standing industrial heritage involving what some would say were traditionally male occupations—upholstery, mining, lace making and engineering have been key industries there.

However, from the heritage of Erewash have arisen industries that have grown, changed and been able to allow strong female leadership to develop across many sectors. There are many instances of women being the main breadwinners in families, my mother being one example. There are many other women in management and in schools. There are also women entrepreneurs who have started small businesses in Erewash and a number of women serving and working hard on the Erewash partnership board, our local enterprise board. There are also many examples of strong female leadership in community groups and voluntary organisations; indeed, Erewash has been represented by three different female MPs since 1992—a tradition that some of us hope will continue for a long time.

It simply makes no sense in 2013 not to apply such rules to the succession of our monarch. I have always been a committed royalist and proud to be so. My family can, to say the least, boast no royal connections or history, but I was raised to respect and support our Queen and country. My family are far from having royal connections, although my great-great aunt Amy was married to one of the farm workers on the Sandringham estate. My mother can recollect visiting the cottage on the estate as a child.

I return to the comments that I made at the outset. Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II has set a fine example during her 60 or so years on the throne. There is every reason to make necessary changes through the Succession to the Crown Bill now. Elizabeth II has brought a stability to our ever-changing and modernising world, but she has embraced her duties and responsibilities and moved with the times.

There are many other examples of strong female monarchs throughout our history, all of whom have their place in setting the scene for this timely change to the rules of succession. I have a particular love for Tudor history, an interest that I developed at school and continued through university. My all-time favourite monarch by far is Elizabeth I; in my office, I have a print of Elizabeth I addressing Parliament. Her courage and determination were among her many qualities which resulted in such a lengthy and successful reign. One skill, of which I am sure you would approve, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that she took much enjoyment and time in preparing her speeches to address Parliament—a skill and a habit in which I am sure we are all well versed.

It occurs to me that Elizabeth I got extraordinarily angry when the Commons dared to discuss the succession and, indeed, imprisoned Members of Parliament for doing so. I therefore wonder whether my hon. Friend might not admire her quite so much in that respect.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, I am sure, agrees that there is a fine history in this country of monarchs hiding their feelings. Whatever historians may report in future, the private thoughts of the current Queen Elizabeth remain private.

I am a bit alarmed by what the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) said about Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth I of the United Kingdom is Queen at the moment, so I hope we do not end up in the Tower.

I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about this point, which has already been raised, and believes that the current monarch is Elizabeth I. I, for one, will not enter into that debate any further.

I will end by quoting from what is perhaps one of the most famous and well-documented speeches made by Elizabeth I. It provides another reason to support the Bill and is a timely reminder that leadership requires determination and strength rather than on whether the sovereign is a man or a woman. When Elizabeth addressed her troops at Tilbury in 1588 in the midst of the threat from the Spanish armada, she famously said, midway through her speech:

“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too”.

In supporting the changes to the rules on primogeniture, if there were ever words to put the case squarely that women can perform a task of great leadership and strength, they are those words.

At the outset, I declare an interest in that the changes brought about today will continue to discriminate against people of my faith, but I have absolutely no problem with that. In respect of those people against whom the law will continue to perpetuate discrimination, we have to recognise that that discrimination has worked consistently to date. It is utter folly on the part of the Government to unpick this settled matter, and I believe that they need to tread a lot more carefully. I agree with the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) that we should tread very cautiously and avoid rushing headlong towards the implementation of changes when little consideration and less consultation appear to have been part of the process. We simply do not know what the consequences of the changes will be or what they will achieve.

I say for the record that I agree with the provision to change the rules on primogeniture and believe that it will find wide public approval. However, we have not sought public support for this change to our constitution, and the Government should make provision for wider consultation before they implement it. We ought to be forward-looking and recognise that making such a change now has the potential for significant consequences downstream.

Clause 2(1) opens up a royal Pandora’s box. We should be minimising points of potential crisis, not creating the certainty that there will be a crisis. That is why so many amendments were tabled on this specific matter. While I welcome the points raised and reiterated by the Minister about what the Bill does and does not do, I believe it would be reasonable to insert in it a provision that ensures that the offspring of the monarch—our future monarch, the heir to the throne—will be brought up in the communion of the Anglican Church. I think that would keep a lot of sleeping dogs at rest.

My amendment gives expression to the Government’s own words that the Bill does not change the rule that the monarch must not be a Roman Catholic. If that is the case, they will make satisfactory provision for that in legislation that could alter that settled position. Clarity here would be a welcome addition to the Bill. However, I have listened carefully to the Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, who said that that was outside the scope of this Bill. I accept that point and will reflect on it when and if we come to a Division later.

Without such a provision, the Bill could create a set of circumstances wherein a future heir will have to make a choice between faith and throne. To create a situation in which a person has to choose whether to discard a closely held faith for a position is simply unjust. We need to ensure that we do not create the conditions for such a crisis. The Bill suggests that faith in this day and age is a disposable commodity, which is pure secularism. We should avoid that and make the matter clear in the Bill.

If the Act of Succession remains unchanged by the Bill, the Government have a duty to ensure that the Bill does not create confusion at a later stage when a future heir could be brought up in a different faith and then have to discard it in order to inherit. It would be far better to leave the matter alone or to insert a clause that makes it clear that the future Defender of the Faith will be brought up in the Anglican faith, irrespective of the religious faith of one of their parents. Otherwise, the Government should be honest and consider introducing legislation that disestablishes the Church. That is a matter for another day, but one that I hope this Government will not pursue, because it would be a retrograde step.

We have a great and glorious history, exemplified by the ongoing standing of our monarch not only in this nation but across the world, and by how much she is cherished by this nation. We should tread very carefully in trying to unpick and unravel aspects of our constitution that are best left well alone, as they continue to serve purpose for which they were developed.

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. Clause 1 is absolute common sense, especially in today’s world. It is a welcome step and I am pleased that it is my Government who have introduced it, though admittedly with cross-party support.

I will spend most of my speech addressing clause 2. I say at the outset that I support an established Church in this country and am happy for it to be the Church of England. Indeed, the whole question of who is eligible to be the heir to the throne or, indeed, to be the sovereign of our nation rests on their Church of England faith. In addition, much is connected with marriage—indeed, it was arguments with the Pope back in the 16th century that led to the establishment of the Church of England, which led to the thorny issues that we are examining today and, let us not forget, to several hundred years of persecution of people on the basis of their faith.

I recognise that the Bill is a symbolic gesture, and on those grounds I welcome and support it, but we should also recognise that it is only a token gesture: the person who will benefit from it is the person in line to the throne, not necessarily their children or, indeed, their spouse, if they are of the Catholic faith. Although I do not pretend to be a canon lawyer, there are certainly things that we need to explore along those lines. It is somewhat ironic that the two Ministers leading the Bill through the House are both self-proclaimed atheists. I suppose that means that they are able to take a dispassionate view of the Bill, but perhaps they do not understand the sensitivity or frustration felt by people of faith about the entrenchment and discrimination that the Bill will undoubtedly perpetuate.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, ultimately, the monarch, regardless of whatever rules Parliament creates, governs with the consent of Parliament and the people, and that plenty of monarchs, regardless of what the statute of their day said, have found to their cost the error of no longer having the consent of Parliament and the people?

My hon. Friend, who is also of my faith, makes an excellent point. Of course, the situation he describes led to the execution of a monarch in times past. Frankly, the person with whom they replaced him is one of the people whom I am determined to write out of parliamentary history at some point, if possible by removing the statue outside. We will leave that debate for another day, but it is not only because he banned Christmas—we can just imagine how miserable he was.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) seems to share his concern. It was interesting to hear the hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) ask why someone being deemed the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is invalidated by their not being a member of the Church of England. Would a member of the Church of Scotland or the Church in Wales have to convert formally to the Church of England to take up the role of sovereign? I know that Her Majesty takes her faith very seriously—that is one of her many admirable qualities.

My history of Parliament is coming out next year, just to inform the hon. Lady that there is no point in her writing one now.

The main reason why a monarch has to have a relationship with the Church of England is that they have to be crowned. The coronation service is provided for in canon law, and therefore in statute law.

I thank the hon. Gentleman and look forward to seeing his book. I see him in the Library regularly, where I assume he is researching it assiduously.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will note the fact that the title of Defender of the Faith was originally granted to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521. It was then rescinded nine years later, after Henry VIII decided to remove himself from the Church of Rome. It was Parliament that restored that title in 1544.

Indeed, but it still decided to do so.

Of course I will not oppose the Bill, and I welcome large parts of it, but the point that I am trying to make is that we should not pretend that it is some great second Catholic emancipation that will remove any particular discrimination.

The question was raised today about what would happen if a future sovereign chose to marry outside the Church of England, of if they chose to marry somebody of the same sex under other legislation that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office are taking through the House. That marriage ceremony would not be recognised by the Church of England under the proposed laws, so what would it mean for their being the Supreme Governor of the Church of England in future?

I do not wish to get into personal things, but it is not a state secret that the Deputy Prime Minister has married a Catholic and his children are being brought up in the Catholic faith. That matter is taken seriously in various parts of canon law, and although, as I said, I do not pretend to be a canon lawyer, I wish to make various points about that. Back in 1970, in the motu proprio on mixed marriage, the Church acted to remove automatic excommunication as long as people tried to ensure that their children would be brought up Catholic. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) will be relieved to know that in the same motu proprio, the penalty for parents who sent their children to non-Catholic schools was removed. Although his alma mater produced a martyr in the Reformation, one cannot say that that school is a Catholic one. I am sure he is about to intervene on me.

I am sure that the bishop who confers confirmation on the majority of pupils in Eton college is not the Archbishop of Westminster.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister referred to certain royals who had married Catholics. Again, I do not want to get too personal, but one of his examples was a marriage that was dissolved and then annulled a year later; within a month, the same people had married, but the Pope had refused dispensation for marriage in a Catholic church on the grounds that the person who could have been heir to the throne had written explicitly that his children could not be brought up in the Roman Catholic Church but would be brought up in the Church of England. As we know, centuries of back and forth between the Church of Rome and the monarch of England meant that five years later, Pope John Paul II allowed that situation to be validated, which I am sure was welcome.

Such things happen the other way. My grandfather in Godmanchester was brought up as a Salvationist but became a Catholic to marry my grandmother in Dublin. I appreciate that sometimes the Church of Rome can be demanding the other way in wanting to encourage marriages of similar faiths. However, I diverge. My point is that it is important that the Government realise how, in matters of faith, making bland statements about people in church marrying those of a different religion could automatically dismiss the important religious views of the spouse to be. When one of the people due to be heir to the throne married a Catholic, that Catholic converted to the Church of England—out of love, I am sure, for her future husband—but we should not take such issues lightly. This provision is a welcome step, but we should acknowledge that although it removes one element of discrimination, it will entrench others until we have a fresh Act of Parliament.

I did not intend to speak in this debate but I am one of three Members of Parliament whose constituency includes a significant amount of land belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster. The constituency of my neighbour the Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), includes large areas of the duchy—including a very fine pub, the Inn at Whitewell, which is owned by Her Majesty the Queen, or the duchy—as does that of my colleague and hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw). We are therefore acutely aware of the nuanced differences between the monarch—the sovereign—and the Duke of Lancaster, as our Queen is known in the county palatine of Lancashire.

When we consider the impact of the Bill, it is important to understand how it could impact on the other titles, assets and offices of our sovereign. I am looking for clarity. I do not oppose the principle of what the Bill seeks to achieve, although I sometimes perhaps favour the route of the old clan chieftains in Scotland of choosing the most appropriate person to succeed rather than the oldest or youngest, or a male or female. The Saxons sometimes adopted a similar tactic.

Today the duchy is more than just a title; it represents huge amounts of land and assets. It owns about 19,000 hectares of land, valued at £350 million in 2010, so a significant asset is attached to the title, and we must understand the problem that the Bill may create. In the next debate, it is important that the Government set out clearly the position that may need to be addressed.

The current Duchy of Lancaster is the second creation, set up for John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, in 1362. It became a powerful duchy, and as a result, when Henry Bolingbroke succeeded as Henry IV and was crowned in 1399, he was keen to ensure that his inheritance and that of his children was kept separate from the Crown and the sovereign, as at that time kings tended to lose their crowns.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about Henry Bolingbroke, but is that not a demonstration of the flexible nature of the powers of succession, given that he usurped the Crown?

One reason I do not oppose the Bill is that I do not live in a fantasy world in which Parliament and others have never interfered with the succession. In fact, if Parliament had not, we might still have a Stuart king. I, as a Scot descended from Jacobites, would probably have been quite happy with that.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will not listen to his Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). If Henry Bolingbroke did usurp the throne, the present monarch is not the right monarch. I think it was decided by Parliament that Richard II had already abdicated and relinquished the throne and that therefore there was a vacancy, much as happened in 1688.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. However, Henry IV’s first act on the throne was to pass the charter of duchy liberties, in which he asserted that the duchy was his possession, separate from those of the sovereign and the Crown. That was confirmed by Henry VII in 1485, and for the benefit of officials and Whitehall it is important to note that there has since been no fresh settlement. Perhaps the clarity we are looking for is found way back in 1485.

This is why clarity is important. The Bill, with which I agree, could create an eldest daughter as sovereign, who will take precedent over a younger son. Perhaps that is where the problem lies. If a monarch has two children, the eldest a daughter and the youngest a son, the Bill empowers the eldest to become the next sovereign. It makes no mention of the Duchy of Lancaster or the title of Duke of Lancaster, separate from the Crown, and nor does it mention what will happen to the assets. Without clarity, the Bill might mean that we have today stripped Her Majesty the Queen of £300 million-worth of assets from her inventory.

I do not believe that that is what is intended, but clarity is needed. It is easy to ensure that the income is diverted to the sovereign. It is highly likely that existing statute provides that income from the Duchies of Lancaster and of Cornwall will continue, but the question of ownership and the title requires clarity.

Having considered the Duchy of Lancaster, will my hon. Friend consider the Duchy of Normandy, and whether the Queen’s possessions as Duke of Normandy might divert to a younger male child when the Crown went to an elder female one?

I am not an expert on the other duchies in this land, but my hon. Friend proves the point that interfering with succession and fiddling with titles is easier said than done, especially when the titles are so old that they date back to some of the first interferences in succession and the Crown. When the title is linked so much to assets, the House is owed a clear explanation.

Will my hon. Friend invite the Minister to make clear what will happen to the assets and title of the Duchy of Cornwall, which have historically passed through the male line through male primogeniture?

I stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that there is a difference between the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall. My understanding is that the latter comes into existence with the heir to the throne and effectively dissolves when the monarch dies. The Duchy of Lancaster goes back far longer. As far as we can see, it is a separate title and therefore cannot be excluded without excluding the assets that go with it.

I do not expect the Minister to have the 1485 charter at her disposal, or that anyone will be able to produce the answer instantly. I am sure it will take far greater legal brains to produce a clear, concise solution. There might be no problem at all: the charter may make it clear that it does not matter whether the heir is male or female, dealing only with the definition of “sovereign”. That may be the answer, but we need clarity.

As ever, changes such as this are easier said than done. That shows how far back our historical ties go. For 700 years the Duchy of Lancaster has owned some of the land in my constituency. Some of my constituents are tenants of the Duchy of Lancaster and rely for their livelihoods on such things being made clear. They, like Her Majesty the Queen and her assets, deserve that clarity.

I should like to reassure the hon. Gentleman and perhaps Ministers about any risk to the Queen’s assets. There is an editorial cut-off date in clause 1, so the measure applies only to persons born after 28 October 2011. On a constituency note, that must be reassuring to my constituent Zara Phillips, who would otherwise have gone nine places up the order of succession. I am sure her marriage to Mike Tindall would have been approved all the same.

My hon. Friend’s point is well made, but the position is unclear. The Government want to get this right, so I hope they will furnish the House with the clarity I seek.

I should probably declare an interest. During the Glorious Revolution, my family plotted in an ice house to remove the Catholics and bring William of Orange to this country. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and I should have a meeting later to try to resolve our differences. That was many years ago, and times have changed considerably since—[Interruption.] I hear an hon. Member say, “Not enough!”, but thank heavens there are a few dinosaurs left.

I was wondering whether the hon. Gentleman was relying on parliamentary approval to make sure that he is not in any way conflicting with the laws of the land.

Treason, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is implying, does not apply to my family—certainly not, and certainly not to me today.

I will speak briefly, because so much has been said and said so well, not least by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). I concur with every word he said. I also concur with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said, not least about the problems we would have if a Roman Catholic married into the royal family. Under current rules, that heir would not be able to take the throne without more amendments to Acts and regulations, which could cause huge angst and difficulty in the years ahead. Either we do the whole thing, or we do not tinker with our constitution, as we are attempting to do.

So many hundreds of years of history have brought the country to this point. We must not ignore the fact that our history comes with bloodshed, religion, all kinds of glorious moments and some very sad ones. We are here at this point today and we should respect hugely what has gone before. I am nervous that nearly 700 years of tradition will be trampled on in two days. Two days of debate is not long enough, and I beg those on the Front Bench to give us more time to discuss this. I am sure that similar views will be expressed in the other place.

We have no mandate to change or tinker with the succession. It was not in our manifesto. My postbag, like those of colleagues I am sure, is not bulging with requests to do what we propose to do. In fact, my postbag is bulging with other, far more serious issues, not least the EU, immigration, jobs and all the other big issues we face. In fact, the only letters I have received on this matter—a lot of them—are from republicans who see any move to tinker with our royal family as a chance to rid the country of our monarchy. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members support the Queen, as I do, and are loyal subjects. It is interesting that even the slightest opening has produced an opportunity for republicans, who want to see the royal family gone, to try and exploit.

Does my hon. Friend not agree, though, that it would be fairer to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to resolve this matter before they produce their first child?

That is a good point, but as I understand it the legislation will be retrospective to 28 October 2011 anyway, so why the rush? If that is what is leading us to make this decision so quickly, I would say that it is another reason why we should not be doing so. Republicanism is one example, dare I say it, of the law of unintended consequences.

As I understand it, the Bill was not introduced in the House of Commons until every Commonwealth realm had consented in writing. We are told that the palace has been consulted, but I believe there is still much work to be done. It is a sad day when we are fast-tracking a Bill on this honoured institution through this place in such a short time. As I said, the Bill is going to be retrospective and, as I understand it, the changes will apply to any child born after 28 October 2011. Why not allow us, the law-makers, more time for consideration?

We owe our country’s stability—indeed, the existence of the monarchy itself—to a series of Acts and laws stretching back centuries. They include the Treason Act 1351, the Bill of Rights of 1689, the Act of Settlement of 1701 and the Regency Act 1937. If we insist on proceeding with this Bill, I understand that we will need to amend no fewer than nine Bills and nine Acts.

My final objection to this Bill is that far wiser heads than mine have counselled against such changes, which will have unforeseen and unintended consequences that could shake the foundations of our country. Even the Labour Government under Blair shied away from this, because the complexities outweighed the benefits.

My hon. Friend is outlining his objections to the Bill and the speed with which it is rushing through, but does he agree with the principle—I speak as a Roman Catholic myself—of stopping discrimination against Roman Catholics in accession?

As I understand it, the Bill will not stop discrimination. A Roman Catholic child is not able to inherit the throne under the current law, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset outlined at the start of this debate, so Roman Catholics are still being discriminated against. As my hon. Friend also said, either we change the whole thing or we do not touch it at all.

Just for the record, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, although he was correct to say that the Labour Government under Blair shied away from these changes, the Labour Government under Brown embraced them?

As my hon. Friend rather amusingly says, “Under who?” Indeed, I do not think we have seen the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) for some time.

To sum up, as a Member of Parliament—

I am just about to finish and the hon. Gentleman was a little disparaging earlier, so I am not exactly too keen to give way to him right now.

I would like this matter to be considered an awful lot further before any unforeseen pitfalls and unwanted legislation arise. At the moment, I would argue that it appears unseemingly hasty to go down this route. We are Conservatives—I am a Conservative—and we have to protect and conserve our ancient traditions. They are there for a reason, and if we must change them, we should do so reverently and with due consideration.

The problem with this Bill is in the detail—it has not been properly and carefully considered or well thought through. It is, therefore, full of problems.

We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) about the issues concerning the Duchy of Lancaster, which seemed to take Ministers completely by surprise, as if they had given not a moment’s thought to an ancient title that is with the Crown, but not the Crown. That leads on, as I intervened on him to say, to the question of the Dukedom of Normandy, under which the Crown holds the Channel Islands. Have the Channel Islands been involved in these discussions? They are not mentioned in the list of realms otherwise. Have they brought forward proposals to change their feudal overlord—the role that the Duke of Normandy plays—in the Channel Islands? Will the Dukedom of Normandy be subject to clause 1 of the Bill? The same issue applies to the Duchy of Lancaster.

There is widespread agreement that the Crown should be able to pass through the male and the female lines. It is accepted by many people that—by the virtue of a succession of Acts of Parliament, actually—we have had the good fortune to have a most remarkable selection of Queens as our sovereign. However, it is also worth bearing in mind—there is only a tiny little note on page 5 of the Library research paper to contradict this—that there is, in the ordinary commonlaw of England, no primogeniture among women. There is a note from a legal textbook which claims that the Crown is different, but I want to know whether that is actually true, because when we look at the succession of female sovereigns, we see that almost all have succeeded by Act of Parliament. Mary I took precedence over Elizabeth I by virtue of Henry VIII’s Third Succession Act of 1543. The Bill of Rights gave Queen Mary precedence over Queen Anne. The Act of Settlement gave the Electress Sophia precedence over her elder sister, Louise, who, in spite of being alive at the time, was ignored altogether in the succession. Victoria was the only claimant. The succession of our own Queen is the only instance in which there has been female primogeniture. At every other time, the succession has been established by law. I do not understand why the Bill does not clarify that point.

My understanding is that there was no legal basis for the present Queen to become Queen. There was an argument that she and her sister should hold the throne jointly, and it was only as a result of a Privy Council decision that common sense dictated that the senior of the two sisters should become the monarch.

The hon. Gentleman makes that point extraordinarily well. This is the time, while we are legislating on the issue, to clarify the order of precedence among sisters. Otherwise, there is a risk that clause 1 will simply provide that the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be co-heirs to the Crown. The question whether Princess Margaret could have claimed the throne in 1952 is an interesting one. Surely the best time to settle this once and for all is while we are legislating on the matter. We should make it clear that, at least as far as succession to the Crown is concerned, female primogeniture has the same effect as male primogeniture, and that the co-heiress problem that exists in peerages will not apply.

I think it was Baron Grey of Codnor whose title was in abeyance from the late 15th century until the late 1980s. That is an example of how having co-heiresses in common can lead to an extensive abeyance. Why is that detail ignored in the Bill? It seems to me that the main reasons are the rush to pass the legislation and the failure properly to consider the ramifications of what is being done. That also applies to how dukedoms will pass. Will they pass as ordinary titles, or are they to be deemed to be within the Crown? If they are deemed to be within the Crown, why is that not in the Bill?

I have already discussed my concerns about clause 2 in relation to Catholics. It is unreasonable of an Act of Parliament to allow a Catholic to do one thing then deny that Catholic the ability to carry out the requirements of his faith. That is an illogical position to take, and it will bring out all the anti-Catholic terminology of the Act of Settlement and the Bill of Rights. Many Catholics can live comfortably with that terminology as part of our historical tradition, lost in the mists of time, but when it is brought firmly to our attention this week, it is a matter of the deepest concern. As other hon. Members have said, if a reform is to be made, it should be a thorough-going reform.

Is it not one of the ironies that clause 2 states that no one should be disqualified from succeeding to the throne through being married to a Catholic, yet clause 3 allows the monarch to exclude someone by refusing to consent to their marriage, potentially to a Roman Catholic?

The hon. Gentleman is making a similar point to mine, which is that there has been a failure to consider the detail of the Bill. Trying to add two further clauses to the major provision that everyone was interested in has created confusion.

Is it not unreasonable, however, to ask a Roman Catholic to become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England—the hon. Gentleman obviously recognises that, given his suggestion of a regency—or to conform to the Presbyterian Church when in Scotland?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. It would be perfectly reasonable to leave the law of the land as it is, or to make provision for a regency, which would address the problem. Under the Regency Act 1937, the regent would be required to be a Protestant and would therefore be able to carry out the functions of Supreme Governor of the Church of England for a period when the Crown was being held by a Catholic.

Again, however, there are issues with the detail. I raised with the Minister the issue of Counsellors of State. Who is eligible to be a Counsellor of State is set out in the Regency Act 1937. It is usually the closest members of the sovereign’s family, including people who are not of the blood royal, so this includes the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen mother and the Duke of Edinburgh: they both were or are eligible to be Counsellors of State. Once a Catholic is allowed to marry an heir to the throne, it is perfectly possible for the two Counsellors of State—they always act in pairs—to be Catholics. During a brief incapacity of the Crown or during the Crown’s absence abroad, appointments in the Church of England would have to be made by Roman Catholics, which is a felony under the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829. It seems to me that Her Majesty’s Government are simply not aware of the detail of our constitutional settlement, and have pushed this clause through without considering the detailed ramifications.

The bit of the Bill for which I have the most sympathy is the clause abolishing the Royal Marriages Act 1772. I intervened earlier to cite a quotation from it that makes it the most nonsensical Act on the statute book since the marriage of Princess Alexandra, as she then was, to the then Prince of Wales. Princess Alexandra and her descendants were exempt under the section I read out earlier to the effect that royal princesses who married foreigners and their heirs were exempted from the Act. The marriage of Princess Louisa, the daughter of George II, exempted her line, and through Princess Alexandra our current Queen and all the members of her family are exempted. This Act of Parliament has only affected people for whom it did not really matter who they married and it has not affected the people for whom it did matter who they married.

It seems slightly eccentric to update this Act in a more aggressive form than the one currently on the statute book. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) said, the ability to get an exclusion from Parliament at the age of 25 has been removed, so more onerous legislation has resulted, taking people out of the line of succession rather than simply invalidating the marriage. Provisions have been put in place that are harsher than those of an Act that was completely ineffective against those with whom it was supposed to deal.

I am not going to vote against Second Reading. I am not going to try to cause a Division against the serried ranks of the establishment. Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition and Her Majesty’s Government line up their forces to push through a Bill of political correctness—not gone mad, but simply not thought through. I wish that when we considered, debated and changed our constitution, we did it with plenty of time, thoughtfulness and detail.

Pretty much every speech we have heard today has raised an issue that should have been thought about, but has been ignored. Why has it been rushed through? Because it is convenient. Once the two Front-Bench teams are in agreement, the days of the week could be renamed if they felt like doing it. There is nothing so silly as cannot be done by them jointly. That, I am afraid, is what we find with this Bill. Let us hope that when we come to Report—or more likely, perhaps, in the other place—the technicalities and the detail can be gone through, so that we do not find that the Duke of Lancaster ends up being one person and the sovereign another; so that we do not find that the Church of England is accidentally being run for a week by a couple of Papists who happen to be Counsellors of State; so that we do not find that an onerous charge is put on royal marriages so that the royals cannot marry when they want—or, indeed, so that the more junior members of the royal family cannot marry at all because if they are not subject to the Royal Marriages Act 1772, they are excluded from ordinary marriage legislation, so how are they going to get married? I really think that it is time to have a look at the detail.

Like several other Members, I had not planned to speak on Second Reading, but then I thought about some of the issues involving the Duchy of Cornwall. Others have referred to the Duchy of Lancaster and, indeed, to the Duchy of Normandy, which I had not considered but which I believe has a separate status, in that it was not created by a monarch but was held by previous monarchs prior to their accession to the throne of England. I was interested when the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) tempted the usual channels to consider creating a new calendar for the country, as Napoleon did during one of his tenures, but I shall not pursue that issue.

The hon. Members for Caerphilly (Wayne David) and for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) were proud of the Celtic identity of at least two of the houses that have ruled over England and, in one case, Scotland. We have of course been a multicultural nation: Norman French, Welsh, Scots, and people of German descent have reigned over us successively. Perhaps at some time in the future there will be a dynastic war, following which an Anglo-Saxon will reclaim the throne on which Harold last sat.

I am interested in the religious dimension, which other Members have already explored. On Sunday, after attending mass as a Roman Catholic, I moved to the other side of Bodmin to attend the Anglican christening of my niece. A warm welcome was extended to all of us by the rector of the church of St Petroc, who was keen to inform us that the Norman font had been moved, that it was one of the oldest parts of the church, and that it had escaped the damage done by that great vandal King Henry VIII. I wondered which of the Churches I was delighting in at that point, as the rector seemed so eager to draw attention to something with which I might have been a little more in agreement.

In principle, I am very happy with the proposal in the Bill to update the rules of succession in line with changes in society so that an eldest female child can inherit the throne. The hon. Member for Caerphilly listed countries that had got there before us. If Hanover had got there before us in the 1830s, the history of western Europe might have been different. Had the kingdom of Hanover still been united with the United Kingdom, it might have had all kinds of influences when it came to the unification of Germany.

As one who represents a Cornish constituency, however, I am keen to explore issues relating to the Duchy of Cornwall. The hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), who spoke about the Duchy of Lancaster, said that it was his understanding that the Duchy of Cornwall was recreated whenever there was a male heir, but that is not my understanding. My understanding is that it does not disappear and revert to the Crown in its entirety, but is held by the Crown pending the arrival of a future male heir to the throne. The institution of the Duchy is a continuous organisation, which has been keen to assert its rights on a number of occasions throughout history: its right to the foreshore, for instance, and its right to bona vacantia in Cornwall.

The hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North spoke of the property that is owned. I am not as familiar with the Duchy of Lancaster as he is, but I think that there is a distinction between the rights to property that the Duchy of Cornwall, for example, owns elsewhere in the country as a private estate, and the rights that it has in terms of the territory of Cornwall, which are far deeper. Perhaps at some point I could discuss the issue with the Minister, or, indeed, with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister.

Those involved in the tin mining industry in Cornwall had their own Parliament, the Stannary Parliament. It was dissolved in 1753, which is not an incredibly long time ago in constitutional terms. The question of who becomes the Duke of Cornwall is not just financial; it is far more important than that, because it also involves a constitutional issue. The Bill makes it more likely that there will be periods without a Duke of Cornwall when the heir to the throne is female. I hope that the Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister will agree to meet me to discuss some of these issues and that prior to such a meeting they might allow me to have access to the translation of the charters that established the Duchy of Cornwall. They might have those to hand and that would allow us to have an interesting exploration into what might be done to deal with these issues as they pertain to the Duchy of Cornwall.

This has been a fantastically interesting debate and I am sorry that there has not been a greater attendance in the House. Let me draw the House’s attention to the following, which the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution said in 2011:

“The fundamental nature of our constitution means that it should be changed only with due care and consideration”.

We have heard this afternoon, particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), about how little the Government have taken into account the potential unforeseen consequences that could arise from this measure, which has been described by Andrew Roberts in The Daily Telegraph as “blithely fiddling” with the constitution.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) made an incredibly powerful speech on the importance of the constitution, the Crown and all the traditions, eccentricities and contradictions that are so much part and parcel of 1,000 years of this nation’s history and which we tinker with at our peril. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) rightly made the important point that once we start unpicking the thread, we never know where it is going to end. I am pleased to be able to agree with him on that, if not on everything else. The constitution is incredibly important, which is why we should have more time to debate this measure.

My second point is that the idea that the European Court of Human Rights should have any say in our deliberations on this matter is so fatuous and offensive that it should be struck out completely—how dare it ever seek to interfere with what we discuss on these matters in this House.

My third point relates to the question of female succession. I had the privilege of serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the greatest Prime Minister since the grandfather of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex. I refer to the noble Baroness Thatcher, to whom I am utterly and irredeemably devoted. She was the salvation of the nation, and so I cannot argue against the idea that female succession is in the interests of the nation—Margaret Thatcher clearly proved that it is. Our sovereign has also done this country astonishingly good service. I do not believe that any sovereign has so lived up to their coronation oath as Her Majesty the Queen, and this nation is beginning to understand the contribution that she has made to the stability of this nation. That confirms everything that my right hon. Friend said.

My real problem is with the risk to the established Church that arises from the Bill. I believe that the established Church and the Crown are indissolubly linked. We will be allowing the heir to the throne to marry a Catholic and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset has pointed out, under the rules of the Catholic Church the children have to be brought up in the Catholic faith. There would therefore arise a potential conflict of interest in the mind of that person as to which was going to command their loyalty—their loyalty to their faith or their loyalty to the Crown. The issue has not been properly examined, and I support amendment 16, tabled by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), which would spell it out and make things crystal clear—it is not anti-Catholic.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) that my mother wrote a book called “A Plain Man’s Guide to the Glorious Revolution, 1688”. It was on sale in this place and it sold many copies. The point my mother always made was about how Catholicism was seen in the 17th century. People were not prejudiced against it; they feared it, because it was seen as owing allegiance beyond these islands. That was why Catholicism represented a threat; it is rather like how some of us see the European Union today or how some of us saw communism in the latter part of the 20th century. To measure the Catholicism of those times against our views today is a mistake; we should put it in its historical context. I salute my hon. Friend and his ancestors for what they did.

There are serious issues that we need to consider. We need to address the question of what happens if the heir to the throne were to marry a Muslim or a Hindu. What would that do to the United Kingdom?

I will not give way because the Minister needs to wind up the debate.

All the points made in this House today by my hon. Friends and Members of all parties have illustrated that we should have had much more time to discuss this Bill on the Floor of the House.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for a most compelling debate that has highlighted the gravity of the changes we are making to the UK’s constitution by removing two pieces of discrimination that must not remain on our statute book. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said when opening the debate, the Bill is in many ways about equality. It turns a page on centuries of discrimination and prejudice on religious and gender grounds in one of our most important institutions—the monarchy.

It falls to me to respond to a number of the important issues raised. First, I welcome the support shown around the Chamber, including that of the loyal Opposition. I also welcome the range of experience that came through in the comments made, including those of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is no longer in his place, and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). I welcome the passion that has been shown by Members such as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who is also not in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), even though they were on different sides of the debate. I also welcome the erudition shown by Members such as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and—need I mention him—my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg).

Let me begin on the point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) finished: he asked what would happen if an heir to the throne were to marry a Muslim or somebody of any other faith. That is possible today and the Bill should not raise further fears. We should be able to accept, debate and deal with that question in the 21st century.

I want to start with the implications for the established Church of the changes we have discussed today. I reassure all hon. Members that the changes proposed in the Bill are limited to removing the bar on marriage to a Roman Catholic. I think all Members know that. The Bill does not allow a Roman Catholic to accede to the throne and in no way touches the basis of the established Church. Indeed, the Church of England has made that clear in its own words. I have already quoted the words in the other place of the Bishop of Blackburn, which are helpful to our debate.

Various points were made about the Church of Scotland that raised some interest across the Chamber. I understand that the Church of Scotland does not define itself as an established Church, but I shall not go further into that debate as I do not have time to do so. I reassure the House, however, that the Church of Scotland, among others, was consulted in the course of our work.

Various Members raised the possibility of an heir entering into a mixed Anglican and Catholic marriage and discussed what would happen under Roman Catholic canon law. Some feared that that could lead to a constitutional crisis, and I want to reassure them. There is an example of that in the royal family in Lord Frederick and Lady Gabriella Windsor, the son and daughter of Prince Michael of Kent. He married a Catholic, but the children have been brought up in the Anglican communion. I suggest that that is a pragmatic example in the modern monarchy. I would not dream of taking on my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, but I note that various guidance has been published in the intervening years that might provide practical advice.

My hon. Friend refers to Princess Michael of Kent. When Prince and Princess Michael married in 1978, they did not marry in a Catholic church. That was corrected five years later, after her children had been born.

I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that point for the edification of our colleagues, but I do not see how that detracts from the main point that it has been possible to take a pragmatic view of how the modern monarchy must function. We have already spoken about the relevant guidance, which suggests that one should do one’s best to have the children raised as Catholics but that there could be just and reasonable cause for not doing so. The protection of the place of the established Church is a rather large cause and some colleagues mentioned that. The Church of England, as I have said, has made it clear that the requirement to join communion with the Church of England is not affected by the Bill. The Archbishop of Westminster has confirmed that he recognises the importance of the position of the established Church in protecting and fostering faith in our society.

I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by my hon. Friends, but it is important in this day and age to remove specific reference to Roman Catholics. As the Deputy Prime Minister said, we spend a great deal of time making sure that minority groups do not suffer discrimination, and as a Roman Catholic I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to pursue this matter as speedily as possible. It is rather insulting for Catholics to be in this position—not that I am going to marry a member of the royal family or anything.

I wish my hon. Friend luck in that last endeavour. I thank him for his comments, which demonstrate the breadth of views that have been expressed this afternoon.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex asked whether the legislation would make it more likely that we will have a Catholic monarch. No, it does not. It makes it more likely that the heir to the throne may marry a Catholic—that is what the legislation does—but the bar remains on the sovereign being a Roman Catholic. There is no more need for a constitutional crisis now than there was before, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot.

I should like to deal with the point that has been raised a couple of times about, shall we say, the human misery of having to choose between one’s faith and the throne. Let us not forget that there is a particular piece of misery already available under the existing constitutional arrangements, which is not being able to marry the person you love. It is important to note that that is already available to anyone who wishes that particular form of difficulty. It is evident to everyone in the country that the huge public popularity of the wedding of certain members of the family in recent years shows that members of a modern monarchy do and can marry for love, and we ought to consider that as we discuss the tensions that that family may feel.

I am terribly sorry. The hon. Gentleman has had plenty of chances to speak, and doubtless there will be more in Committee.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) wondered whether a female heir would be styled “the Princess of Wales”. The granting of royal titles is a matter for the sovereign, and it is not within the scope of the Bill. He made various points about the Duchy of Cornwall not passing to a female heir. Again, as a matter of title, that is a matter for the sovereign. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friends the Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) to discuss the points that they made.

I turn to the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset. He began by raising something that is touched on in amendments which have not been selected for debate: the issue of two daughters and the clarity of succession. We are confident that it is clear, having regard to the succession to the Crown in 1952, that when a monarch dies the eldest daughter, if there are two, would succeed. We believe that there is no need to make statutory provision to address that. I am grateful for the points that my hon. Friend made about the Counsellors of State, who are the spouse of the monarch and the next four individuals in the line of succession, except where they are disqualified by virtue of being Roman Catholic. I thank my hon. Friend for the breadth of ground covered by his other points; we may have a chance to return to that.

Turning to retrospective measures, my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) suggested that clause 2 ought not to apply retrospectively. We are dealing with the need to respect realistic changes to the legitimate expectations of those closest to the throne, so there are differences in what clauses 1 and 2 do. We may come on to that in Committee. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) argued that in this day and age there was no need for anyone to seek the sovereign’s consent to marry. I remind him that it may well be in the public interest that consent should be given for the marriage of someone who may become our Head of State. Other European countries, such as Norway, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands, require such consent.

Other points raised included whether the requirement of consent to the first six in line to the throne ought to apply to all descendants of Queen Elizabeth II. One factual answer is that the line of succession in recent history has rarely gone beyond six. A more amusing answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, if he will allow me, is that his ambition is not high enough if he does not aim to become Father of the House in 200 or 300 years’ time to be here to see that problem repeat itself should all the descendants of Queen Elizabeth II be allowed—

I am afraid that I am about to run out of time. It remains for me to deal with the point from the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) about children who are adopted or born as a result of donor eggs. I can clarify that it is only the children of a husband and wife who are entitled to succeed, not adopted children or those born from artificial insemination.

I commend the Bill to the House—

I thank the Minister for her response. May I press her on the issue of the figure of six? Can she give a slightly more detailed explanation, rather than saying, as the Deputy Prime Minister said, that that was a pragmatic decision or that there was some historical precedent? Can she be more specific and—

Four hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the allocation of time motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Question (Order, this day).

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).