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Succession to the Crown Bill

Volume 557: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2013

Considered in Committee (Order, this day)

[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]

Clause 1

Succession to the Crown not to depend on gender

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill has been well explained in the debate on the allocation of time motion and on Second Reading. Clause 1 simply removes male bias primogeniture in the succession to the throne.

On a point of order, Mr Hoyle. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) is not present to move the amendment that he tabled to clause 1. I think that is because when the Speaker announced the amendments that had been selected, he referred only to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) to the allocation of time motion.

I support the motion that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Removal of disqualification arising from marriage to a Roman Catholic

I beg to move amendment 4, page 1, line 9, after ‘person’, insert

‘who married a person of the Roman Catholic faith’.

Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker—I am sorry, Mr Hoyle. I will get it right in the end. It is so difficult when people have so many titles, like Her Majesty. It causes confusion, even for those of us who try to specialise in such important aspects.

My amendment is a minor one that is intended to clarify which person clause 2(2) refers to, because we do not want to refer to the wrong person. The amendment refers to a person

“who married a person of the Roman Catholic faith”,

because I am concerned that the part of clause 2(2) that reads,

“where the person concerned is alive”,

could be taken to mean not the person who married the Catholic, but the person who was the subject of that marriage, or indeed the person who was its product.

It occurs to me that, together with the need to style Queen Elizabeth as Queen Elizabeth II, the obsession with whether or not the monarch is Catholic only really applies in England—it does not seem to apply to Wales or Scotland, and it certainly does not apply to the other realms. It is so important at the moment because the monarchy resides within England, which colours or clouds the rest of the debate. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman agrees.

That is an interesting point. I am sure that Her Majesty’s other realms will consider whether or not the whole of clause 2 is a matter of great concern to them, because Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the other realms do not have established Churches and so need not worry whether or not the sovereign is married to a Catholic. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that it is essentially a matter of concern in so far as Her Majesty is the Queen of England, rather than Queen of the other territories.

My amendment is very narrow. Clause 2(2) reads as follows:

“Subsection (1) applies in relation to marriages occurring before the time of the coming into force of this section where the person concerned is alive at that time”.

Who does that mean? It could mean a person who was excluded from the succession many years ago as a result of marrying a Catholic and who happens to be alive at the time the Act comes into force. Therefore, we might find that we will need to rearrange the whole succession because the clause is not clear about who that person is. I think that the Government’s intention is that that is the person who contracted the marriage to a Catholic. To put a name to it, we are talking about someone such as His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent.

Once it has been established who is first, second and third in line to the throne, the line of succession is in many ways academic. I am sure that whoever was 10th or 20th in line was not considered much in the time of Robert the Bruce, Edward I or whoever happened to be the monarch in these islands at the time. It is purely an academic matter to be discussed at many dinner tables across the land. I wonder what the hon. Gentleman’s opinion is.

That is an interesting thought, but I think that it is important that the line of succession should be clear and in no doubt. I think that legislation relating to the succession to the Crown needs to be unambiguous and not allow potential risks to come in because of a mistake in the drafting. We want to know who our sovereign will be, to whom we owe loyalty and all such things, and that might not be possible if we do not know the line of succession.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the succession can leap about. We have been fortunate enough in recent generations to have had a very clear succession and large royal families, but we can sometimes get down to a very small number of heirs, and we see that ordinary hereditary titles can sometimes go to very remote cousins, so who is in line to the throne is very important.

Obviously, there are other amendments that I have tabled. I have concerns about the clause as a whole and whether it should stand part of the Bill—

Order. I remind the Committee that we are dealing only with the narrow amendment that is being moved at the moment.

Thank you for that guidance, Mr Bone. That is the amendment I am moving. It is intended to be helpful and clarifying. Were it to be sent to the other realms in which Her Majesty is sovereign, I would have thought that they would not find it unduly objectionable. Therefore, I bring it to the Government’s attention and hope that they will consider it carefully.

Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who through the amendment seeks to make the intention behind clause 2 crystal clear. Clause 2(1) stops a person being disqualified from succeeding to the Crown or being the monarch because of marriage to a Roman Catholic. The amendment would add words to subsection (2) so that it read slightly differently.

My hon. Friend is trying to make crystal clear that the person referred to in subsection (2) is also the person referred to in subsection (1), who would not be disqualified as a result of having married a Roman Catholic. I sincerely thank him for his amendment.

The Government’s view is that the clarification is not required. We believe that the clause is clear as it stands. For the benefit of the record, I should say that the person referred to in subsection (2) is the person who should not be disqualified from succeeding to the Crown or from possessing it as a result of their marriage to a Roman Catholic. I suggest that the amendment is unnecessary, although I am grateful for the intention behind it. I invite my hon. Friend to withdraw it.

I very much agree with the Minister’s interpretation; that is my understanding as well. It is important to stress that the intention is made clear not only in the words of subsections (1) and (2) but in the clause heading. I suggest that the amendment is otiose.

Having listened to the Minister, I would not wish to divide the House given the limited time available. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I am grateful to be able to spend a little more time on this stand part debate than on the first; it is clear that the majority of this afternoon’s debate has focused on clause 2.

Clause 2 provides for a major change to the laws of succession to the Crown agreed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Perth in 2011. It removes the bar on anyone who marries a Roman Catholic from becoming monarch; that is the purpose of subsection (1). Subsection (2) applies the change retrospectively to anyone who is currently in the line of succession. That means that people who have lost their place in the line of succession because of their marriage to a Roman Catholic will regain their place. Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), I should say that that will not affect anybody who is particularly high up in the line of succession.

Some have suggested that the change could bring into question the position of the established Church of England. We have discussed that issue extensively on Second Reading and in Committee. I give again my full reassurance that the change has no implications for the position of the established Church or for the monarch as the head of the Church of England, because there are no changes to the part of the Act of Settlement that requires the monarch to be a Protestant. I note the interest of some in the Chamber in that point and I re-emphasise it here in Committee. All the clause will do is remove a specifically anti-Catholic provision that bars a person from succeeding to the Crown or possessing it if they are married to a Catholic. As I said, it is worth remembering that there is no bar on the heir to the throne marrying anybody else.

I want to clarify the point that I have asked about twice and that no Minister has replied to. Clause 2 says that someone who marries a Roman Catholic can succeed to the Crown, but clause 3 allows the monarch to remove somebody from the succession by refusing to consent to their marriage. As no reason has to be given why consent is not provided, it could be because the person is Roman Catholic, could it not?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question again because there was unfortunately little time to answer it in detail when winding up the Second Reading debate. It might be worth looking back at some precedents. The point about whether, under clause 3, the monarch would be advised by Ministers was also raised on Second Reading. I hope you will forgive me, Mr Bone, if I deal a little with clause 3 in this debate. In 1967, when there was a question about the marriage—in that case, marriage following a divorce—of a member of the royal family, the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, devised a formula that ran along these lines: “The Cabinet has advised the Queen to give her consent and Her Majesty has signified her intention to do so.” That provides an insight into how such advice to the monarch might operate. We have had many debates, connected to this topic and more widely in the media, about advice to and from the monarch and the publication of such correspondence, and I will not stray on to that territory now. However, it should be perfectly reasonable and practical to imagine that there would be such advice to the monarch.

The hon. Gentleman asks specifically whether that would include withholding consent to marriage because the person is a Catholic. I will not answer that today because, for a range of reasons, there should be space within such advice with regard to consent. As I explained at the end of Second Reading, it is not unreasonable to have the notion of consent to marriage. After all, we are dealing with those who may become Head of State in due course, so there is a matter of public interest. I hope that that begins to provide an answer to the hon. Gentleman.

If I recall correctly, the Minister mentioned the monarch being Protestant. Does she mean Church of England, or could the monarch be a member of any other Protestant Church?

I beg your pardon, Mr Bone, if I have been lax in my words. I do not recall saying that, but if I did, I should have said Church of England, because, as we have been discussing, the monarch is in communion with the Church of England. However, it is also the case that we have a Protestant succession in this country.

The Minister suggested that under clause 3(1) consent could be refused for a variety of reasons, but does not clause 2(1) limit the prerogative such that a refusal of consent as a result of marriage to a person of the Roman Catholic faith would be unlawful?

Order. I am grateful to the Minister, because that is exactly my opinion. We will have a chance to debate clause 3, so perhaps we could stick to clause 2 for the moment.

Clause 2 is extremely clear that the monarch may not be a Roman Catholic. I think that that is the simplest expression of the lawfulness entailed in the clause.

It will not be clear if confusion persists over the matter of Protestant or Church of England. For example, Prince Albert was a Lutheran when he married Queen Victoria; he was a Protestant, not a Catholic. The Hanoverians were Lutherans when they came to the throne. We have a Protestant succession but it also involves supreme governorship of the Church of England.

Again, I am grateful for the chance to be extremely clear. There are no changes to the parts of the Act of Settlement that require the monarch to be a Protestant. I hope that that is sufficiently clear.

But in addition, the monarch has to be in communion with the Church of England. That is very clear in section 3 of the Act of Settlement.

There are many, many sections of the Act of Settlement that we are not dealing with today, and I suspect that that is one of them.

Clause 2 removes a specifically anti-Catholic provision that bars a person from succeeding to the throne or possessing it if they are married to a Catholic.

I think that the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) was trying to draw the Minister’s attention to the provisions in clause 2(1) and suggesting that that might answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). It states:

“A person is not disqualified from succeeding to the Crown or from possessing it as a result of marrying a person of the Roman Catholic faith.”

That, of itself, would not preclude Her Majesty from refusing a marriage on the grounds of somebody being a Roman Catholic. The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood seemed to suggest that that answers the question asked by the hon. Member for Rhondda. Does it?

Again, I suspect that we will have to address that when we discuss clause 3 and are able to go into more detail as to what it does or does not permit. As I told the hon. Member for Rhondda, I am not willing to go through a list of the rules that might be applied to the monarch’s consent. I do not believe that that has been done in matters of tradition before when consent has been sought, but that is a matter for clause 3. Clause 2 is absolutely clear about lifting the bar on marrying a Roman Catholic but, as I have said, it does not change the parts of the Act of Settlement that require the monarch to be a Protestant and in communion with the Church of England.

The more I listen to the Minister today, the more I realise that she has been at pains to emphasise and explain the point that I have made in amendment 16. I have also received reassurances from her verbally and from the Library’s paperwork. That is why I believe my amendment makes eminent sense, because it says exactly what the Minister has said at the Dispatch Box—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but because his amendment has not been selected, we cannot debate it.

The point that I had hoped to make without making you cross with me, Mr Bone, is that the Minister could take the issue away—or perhaps get something from the House of Lords—and then bring back an amended Bill to the House next week. There is clarity in my amendment—

“provided that person remains in communion with the Church of England in accordance with section 3 of the Act of Settlement”—

and if the Minister were prepared to accept that, the matter would be resolved. It would clear up a lot of the confusion that has been voiced today, and the Bill would then have intent, thrust and clarity.

I am glad to be under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, as we discuss the details of this provision. Clause 2 is an important clause, but it raises complications and difficulties, to which hon. Members of all parties have been right to draw attention in order to check whether we are getting this right and achieving the objective.

We are in a different world from that in which the legislation that the Bill will change was created. As hon. Members have said, that was a time when Catholicism represented an actual political threat to the United Kingdom, because of the behaviour of some Catholic powers in Europe. We are long past that era now—indeed, we are in an era in which Catholics and Protestants are aware that they have more things in common—some very important things in common—than they have matters of difference, and an era in which there are many mixed marriages between Catholics and Protestants. We should recognise that people find ways of accommodating and even sharing in the benefits of both approaches to the Christian faith.

A further fact that we cannot simply cast aside is that we have a long national tradition associated with a Protestant monarchy and an established Protestant Church in England—the Church of England—which has its own long and complex history, including its own Catholic elements. We have a long-established situation in Scotland, dating from the Union of the Crowns, whereby the monarch is expected to uphold the position of a national Presbyterian Church in Scotland and to conform to it and attend its services when in Scotland. Protestantism is also a resonant feature of life in Wales and Northern Ireland, as, indeed, is Catholicism in both places. All that is part of our history and we cannot throw it lightly aside.

The right hon. Gentleman touches on the past. It strikes me that perhaps the great worry in the past was not theological as much as it was about the imperialist ambitions of neighbouring nations—France, probably, and Spain to an extent.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that is at the root of the bars and prohibitions that we are discussing now. There were of course strongly felt theological differences, and there was a time when to be a Member of this House, a person had to swear an oath against transubstantiation and the Pope’s ability to relieve them of any obligations resulting from falsely swearing such an oath. It was very stringent. Later, and rightly, it was changed.

The hon. Gentleman comes from an island with an extraordinary and honourable tradition of adherence to the Roman Catholic faith, without a break, since before the Reformation. It is an unusual part of the British Isles in that respect. Where he lives. there has always been diversity in these matters.

The right hon. Gentleman mentions the geography and history of my constituency, and he is correct that the island that I happen to be from has that Catholic tradition associated with it. The recent census showed that the southern part of the Hebrides had the most Catholic areas in Scotland, but also that the most Protestant areas in Scotland were in my constituency, in Lewis, Harris and North Uist in the northern isles. It is interesting to note that there has never been any religious tension between the two at all.

The two versions of Christianity live side by side remarkably happily in the Western Isles.

The purpose of the Bill is not to change the Protestant succession, as the Minister has made clear. If it were, we would have to spend a lot longer on it considering many more detailed and complicated clauses, and there would be many more concerns to deal with. Nor will it disestablish the Church of England—it retains the monarch’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England—or change the situation in Scotland, where the monarch will continue to be expected to be a loyal supporter of the Church of Scotland and its work, as the Queen notably is, while having good relations with the other religious communities in Scotland.

The problem that arises is the one that I refer to as the early age problem. A decision to bring up a child of such a marriage as a Roman Catholic, whether taken entirely voluntarily or under the provisions of some Roman Catholic law, would result in that child being debarred from taking up the Crown unless they renounced the faith in which they had been brought up. That is perfectly possible, as was mentioned earlier, but it is quite a limitation to place upon a child.

The Act of Settlement mentions

“all and every Person and Persons that then were or afterwards should be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome”,

so if a child were baptised a Catholic, I do not think there would be any subsequent opportunity for them to abandon Catholicism. The decision would be that of their parents at the time of their birth.

That is an interesting argument but I am not persuaded by it in the first instance. It seems to me that it has always been possible for a person to renounce the religion in which they were brought up. It had not previously occurred to me that the way in which we currently define the position would invalidate such a renunciation as removing a barrier to taking up the Crown.

My right hon. Friend has hit on the spirit in which the law would probably be interpreted now. At some point, long before the Acts to which Members have referred today were passed, no members of the Church of England would have been able to escape that position, as they would all originally have been baptised Roman Catholics.

That is a further interesting point. The problem is there and we should not ignore it, and I think any wise parents would have to consider it. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will have had to consider it when he married. I would expect a couple from the royal family to exercise a lot of care and wisdom in making such a decision. However, we have to recognise that we are placing a potentially serious limitation on the children of a marriage such as we are considering, and giving their parents quite a dilemma.

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman away from the point about baptism? There is no such thing as Roman Catholic baptism or Anglican baptism: there is Christian baptism. No Church has ever suggested that there should be a rebaptism when somebody changes their religious denomination. The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about the bringing up of children, but it does not apply to baptism.

Absolutely, and had I decided to spend more time dealing with the argument put by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), I would have looked into other questions such the significance of first communion at the age of eight or nine, for example, and whether someone would subsequently be allowed to renounce it. Most parents would prefer that such a position was not reached, but I refer to it because it is a real problem. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) raised another intriguing issue that could be the subject of an amendment to the Bill, although one that I think the Government might resist on the grounds that it would limit the powers of the sovereign in a family matter—it is a rather unique family situation. Most of us would like to have some influence over the choice of our children’s spouses, and some may feel that they have less influence than they would like, at least in the initial choice of boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever, but the royal family is in a special situation and I think it would be reasonable of the Government to resist fettering the sovereign’s ability to exercise the six-person limitation provided for in the Bill. I understand why they might want to do so.

In imposing this archaic rule and virtually choosing partners for people, which we would denounce in every other field, and in putting the emphasis on religion, when we know that half the population has no religion—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I know that clauses 2 and 3 are closely linked, but we are shifting quickly into clause 3. The sooner we finish with the clause 2 stand part debate, the sooner we will get to clause 3.

I do not want to be drawn into clause 3. We are considering whether the effect of clause 2 might be undermined by clause 3, and that has much to do with clause 2, but I suspect—I do not intend to say this again when we debate clause 3, so I will say it now —that it is something we will have to live with in order to produce a sensible outcome. The Bill as it stands provides a reasonable outcome to the problems I have described, but there is no escaping the fact that some problems will remain.

I want to take up the Minister’s point that this clause removes a line of discrimination from law. That is clearly what it does—up to a point. It removes a blatant bit of sectarian discrimination that would prevent somebody from remaining in the line of succession if they married a Roman Catholic. However, as we have heard, it still requires us all to subscribe to the notion that the Crown must remain Protestant and that somebody can only be Head of State in the United Kingdom on the basis of one particular faith. That is a sectarian provision.

For clarity, it is more than the Crown must remain Protestant; the Crown must remain Church of England. If we are talking about the personality of the monarch’s faith, surely when the monarch crosses a border or moves across the sea, his or her religion does not change.

Well in some respects, as I understand from the current debate, the sovereign’s religion does change when they cross a border. The Church with which they are deemed to be in communion changes when the sovereign crosses the border from the Church of England to the Church of Scotland, not the Episcopal Church in Scotland. That is just from listening to this debate. We are getting into areas that I know little about and do not particularly want to know a lot about. Some of this debate reminds me of the old advert for Baxters soup: “The difference is in the thickness.”

Yes, obviously there is an emphasis on communion with the Church of England because of the role of the Crown and the governorship of that Church, but there is also the Protestant line of succession, as the Minister has said.

I will try not to be too thick about this. Given what the hon. Gentleman has said, would he be happier if the terms were “must be Church of England” rather than “cannot be a Catholic”? To put a political dimension on the matter, as a Scottish nationalist and a monarchist, I would be quite happy to share a monarchy with England if the monarch had to be Church of England. That would be no problem for me.

As a Scottish nationalist, the hon. Gentleman speaks for himself on that. As an Irish nationalist, I have a different view on a number of his points.

In the part of the world I represent, I clearly say to people, “There is no acceptable level of sectarianism in our streets,” but the message from the Committee is that there is an acceptable level of sectarianism in our statutes. We are removing the bar on someone who marries a Catholic from succeeding to the throne, but we are not removing the grossly arcane and offensive language that remains on the statute book. We are saying, “That’s okay.” We have statements from the different Churches that have been consulted that they are just about okay with the compromise, but I am not comfortable with such received sectarianism.

Does the hon. Gentleman share my view that, by amending the statutes, we are saying that all the provisions are modernised, and that the Act of Settlement and all its anti-Catholic provisions are acceptable in a modern world with a few words changed? Does he share my view that that is offensive to Her Majesty’s loyal Catholic subjects and possibly more offensive to republicans?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, which reinforces exactly the one I am making. The Committee will take a deliberate decision to amend only the legislation it needs to amend, and will not take the opportunity to do away with the offensive, discriminatory and provocative language. Such language will remain on the statute books—the language of the law of the land—which is offensive. Why would the Committee take a decision at this point in the 21st century not to make laws of our time and for the future?

To my mind, it is not acceptable for people to be satisfied by such received sectarianism, and it is a matter of sadness that it remains. That is my difficulty with clause 2. I welcome the fact that it makes a difference, but I have a fundamental problem with the fact that it says, “Everything else can stay the same. That’s okay. We’re happy with that sort of language.” We should be repulsed by the language that the Committee says should stay on the statute book.

I am delighted to take part in Committee under your tutelage, Mr Bone, and to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and other hon. Members. There is a paradox in the situation in which we find ourselves. The Government are seeking to end part of a discriminatory law, and yet have resurrected rather a lot of hurt, as expressed by the hon. Member for Foyle and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). Perpetuating this debate could lead to further hurt.

As an Anglican on the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, the last thing I seek to do is to offend those in the Catholic Church, but I should tell my hon. Friend that he might at least allow us to take communion when we attend his Church. When he attends ours, he is allowed to take communion with us. Perhaps that little bit of discrimination could be ended by the Catholic Church.

If my hon. Friend has been able to get a tweet from the Vatican to indicate a change in policy, I would be delighted to give way to him.

It is incredibly concise and relevant to clause 2. My simple point is that the matter to which my hon. Friend refers is one for the Papacy. I do not have the authority to do as he asks.

I am sure the day will come when such authority is conferred by the Vatican upon my hon. Friend, such is the power of his language.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) made the point that the two Churches are coming together, and that Christian Churches generally are doing so. That is imperative, particularly given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism not just around the world, but in our country. The issue of succession and religion—which is what clause 2 is all about—is very significant. I welcome the fact that the Minister has put it on the record that section 3 of the Act of Settlement 1700 will remain firmly part of the law of this land. While an heir to the throne may be entitled to marry a Catholic, no one who is not in communion with the Church of England shall be sovereign of this country. It is important that that is stated, and I am grateful to the Minister. The reason I was prepared to support the additional confirmation of that by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) was that one is so aware of the zeal with which the present Administration prosecute their enthusiasm for modernisation that one does not want this to be subject to any form of modernisation. It is imperative that that is clear, and it has been made clear.

I will repeat the point I made on Second Reading as I had to make it in a rather curtailed style. If the heir to the throne were to marry a Catholic, the Catholic ordinances had not changed and the children were to be brought up in the Catholic faith—the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed—those children would face a decision on whether to be loyal to the Catholic faith or to renounce it, and subscribe to being in communion with the Church of England. Therefore, clause 2 does have consequences, and this is not a question of semantics between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.

It is important to all Christians that the sovereign remains, as every coin of the realm testifies, the defender of the faith. I wonder how many children in our schools are taught that. If we put our hands in our pockets and look at our coins, we see the two letters “FD”, which stand for fidei defensor: defender of the faith, the Christian faith. All of us, whether we are Catholic, Congregationalist, Church of England, Baptist or whatever, have a huge interest in ensuring that the Christian faith remains at the heart of this nation, for it is that faith that has formed this nation. It is that faith that has given birth to the enthusiasm for liberty that has attracted so many people of other faiths to come to this country. While the hon. Member for Foyle may find this difficult—I salute the spirit with which he promoted his case—I do not believe it right to be anything other than uncompromising. This House—this Parliament—is governed by the values of the Christian Church and faith. It is therefore imperative that we are crystal clear.

In the hon. Gentleman’s hyperbole about the religious nature of the country, does he recall that the majority of people describe themselves as atheists, and that the number of those who describe themselves as adherents to the Church of England is 19%? That figure is dropping and the number who describe themselves as atheist is increasing. Has he not got a rather romantic view of society, and are we not legislating for the past, not the future?

I think the latest figures show that 60% of the country are adherents to the Christian faith. I do not know if I have a romantic view or not, but what I do know is that this nation, which has become a magnet for people from all over the world, has been forged and fashioned by the Christian faith.

It is a matter of deep concern to me that the leadership of my Church is completely consumed by other matters—in particular, homosexuality and women bishops—at a time when this nation is crying out for spiritual leadership, so I make no apologies for stating what I have said. That is why there is more to this measure than there might appear to be on the face of it. It is also why it is important that Parliament should be able to consider clause 2 in detail—because I think it goes deep into the heart of this nation.

We are not faced with a decision today, next week or next year, because as yet there is no successor to the son of the heir to the throne. We are therefore talking about something that is a long way off. Nevertheless, it is right that Parliament should debate these matters and be absolutely clear in the laws we pass and not leave them to the courts. It is wrong for the Opposition spokesman to assert that the clause heading is clear, because I think I am right in saying that the courts do not take into account the headings of clauses. I am sorry to be a bit pedantic, but that the courts take into account solely what is in the text of the legislation.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as he allows me to point out that the 2011 census found that there were only 29,000 atheists in England and Wales, compared with 33.2 million who said they were Christian. That is why, once again, this point should be emphasised in our legislation, and why we should make it boldly and unashamedly.

I am happy to make common cause with the hon. Gentleman in that endeavour. I entirely agree with him and that is why I have sought to use this opportunity to express my views. To reiterate, I am an active member of the Church of England—I am a church warden of the Royal Garrison church in Aldershot and proud of being so—and I am hugely concerned. I fear that, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset expressed so eloquently, this legislation will lead to all sorts of intricacies that have not been foreseen, and I am afraid that this issue is one of them.

I will conclude on a positive note. I again thank the Minister for putting it profoundly on the record that section 3 of the Act of Settlement 1700 remains firmly and centrally part of the law of this land.

It is a great delight to follow the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth); it is only a shame that he is speaking from the Back Benches. It was rather nice when he was speaking from the Front Bench. They culled the wrong Minister in the Ministry of Defence, I thought. It is good to follow him also because he is a church warden and he will know that church warden was one of the first posts that women could be elected to in this country, long before they could be elected as MPs.

The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right on one point, which is that, in a sense, clause 2 opens a wound, but stitches up only part of it. The wound is actually much bigger. The provisions in the Act of Settlement and the Bill of Rights on Catholicism—only a tiny bit of which we are amending—are not only offensive, but meant to be offensive. They were deliberately intended as offensive legislation, to try to slap Catholicism on the face and send it flying. I know that the Minister wants to restrict things as much as possible and make this a tidy little Bill; none the less, the truth is that at some point we will have to get rid of all these provisions.

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but does he accept that it is not valid to argue that because we cannot change everything we might not like, we can change nothing?

Yes, and that is why I allowed Second Reading to go through, and I will—[Interruption.] Sorry, I meant that I added my assent to everybody else’s. I want clause 2 to remain in the Bill, but it points to the issue—to which hon. Members have referred—of the bringing up of children. Baptism was referred to earlier. At what point does one decide that somebody has been in communion with or reconciled to the See or the Church of Rome? Somebody suggested the point of baptism, but I do not think that that is categorical. As I tried to suggest earlier, baptism is not Catholic or Anglican—it is Christian. However, many children growing up in a Catholic family or being brought up by Catholic parents will be expected to take their first communion when they are quite young. I would have thought that, at that point, they were in communion with Rome.

When looking at the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement, we must bear in mind the particular concern of the people passing that law at that time to exclude James II’s newly born son. The wording is therefore quite all-encompassing in its aim to exclude a child from the first moment of Catholicism infecting it, so to speak, rather than thinking that a child could be brought up as a Catholic and decide at 21 not to be one any more. The terminology is

“reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome”—

It was a very good intervention, though, Mr Bone. I think you are being a bit mean this afternoon.

The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is absolutely right. That is the problem with the clause. I want the clause to go through, but I think it will provide us with long-term problems because it will change the point at which we consider someone to have become reconciled to, or to be in communion with, the Catholic Church. A Catholic can be in communion with the Church of England, as the hon. Member for Aldershot said, because we accept anyone who is in good standing with their own Church into communion with the Church of England. The same does not apply the other way round, however. This is where the issue of bringing up children comes in.

Those of us who are brought up as Catholics are also often confirmed in the Catholic faith at quite a young age. What is my hon. Friend’s understanding of the point at which a child’s Catholicism would become a problem? Could that problem be overcome simply by taking the oath of accession?

That is really a question for the Minister. There is a real question about pulling at one thread in the jumper. Are we undermining other aspects of the present settlement, and will we therefore need a whole new settlement? That is what I think will need to happen in the next 10 to 15 years. Charles II changed his religion on his deathbed; he became a Catholic. If he had then lived, people might have wanted to exclude him from the throne, just as they went on to remove James II.

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the mother of Charles II and James II was a Catholic? That was in many ways the start of the problem.

The hon. Gentleman might say that that was the start of the problem, but I think it is fine to have a Catholic mother. I did not have one myself, but some of my best friends are Catholic mothers. I do not see this in quite the same light. The point is that the bringing up of children leads to the nub of the problem.

I am sorry that my earlier intervention seemed like a speech, Mr Bone, but these are technically complex issues and one sometimes gets a bit more long-winded than one had intended.

During the debate, a number of hon. Members have asked about the specific requirement. I know, because I tabled an amendment on the matter that was not selected, that the Act of Settlement states that

“whosoever shall hereafter come to the Possession of this Crown shall joyn in Communion with the Church of England as by Law established.”

So it does refer to the Church of England and not simply to the Protestant Church.

I also want to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about the age of the child being a Catholic. I think that the earliest age is relevant, because the Act of Settlement goes on to say that

“the said Person or Persons so reconciled holding Communion professing or marrying as aforesaid were naturally dead.”

The succession would pass as though they had died. I know that Christianity is all about the resurrection, but I do not think that statute law is. If a child of a marriage were christened and brought up a Catholic, that child would be deemed “naturally dead” under the Act of Settlement in relation to succession to the Crown. That is why the clause is, I think, so complex, without any further amendment. My view is that it would be better to leave well alone. I am in entire agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), who looks as if he wants to intervene.

I wonder whether there is any way in which the Catholic Church might compromise, as it were, accepting that although the child could be brought up in the Catholic faith, in the event of their being in line for the throne the child would not be expected to do other than renounce the Catholic faith and accept the Church of England.

Yes, of course that would possible. A papal indult could be granted, but when I suggested that earlier, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) thought that that would not do at all, and that having our succession subject to the Papacy would create difficulties of its own. I see the validity of that point. My concern is that by introducing clause 2, we will be passing into law something that brings our law into direct contradiction with the requirements of the Catholic faith. That is what brings us back to the whole offensiveness of the language of the Act of the Settlement.

As I say, I would be happy to see no change at all. The way a country builds up and the way its monarchy develops is lost in the mists of time. To whom that monarchy goes is another issue. We have had discussions about whether the monarchy goes through a strict genealogical line. It does not. By the time of the reign of George V, there were 1,000 people closer to Charles I in the succession than his late Imperial Majesty. It is not something that has been taken back, as we look at Asser’s “Life of Alfred”, to Adam and Eve. Asser’s “Life of Alfred” begins with his genealogy going back to Adam and Eve, but that is not true. Our monarchy is, in fact, established by statute—initially by ancient statute from which it has then developed. The difficulty is that when we start changing part of the statute and allow one thing to happen, there are consequences that will have an effect on other parts of the structure.

I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument closely, and I see, as have other Members, that he is arguing that the provisions just move the injustice on a generation rather than deal with the issue. His solution would be “leave it alone”; another solution is “make a change”. My position would be “let us not make the best the enemy of the good.” We might be able to explore the issues raised by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on another occasion, but let us at least make some progress now.

I do not agree with that, because when we bring legislation before this House, we are not limited by three or four words. We have it within our power to rewrite the whole of the Act of Settlement. That is why I think that, if we are not going to leave the whole thing alone, we have to make the fundamental change: we have to get rid of the fundamental injustice.

I am not going to hold myself up as a great bastion of political correctness. That is not a creed to which I particularly hold or one for which I have any great concern, but I do think that, broadly speaking, there should be equality of tolerance among the religions people choose to follow in this country, and that statute law should not favour one religion against another within the context of an established Church that provides a backdrop of Christianity for historical reasons and that has been a strength of this nation.

My hon. Friend is such a valued Member and knows so much, so does he think that we are about to produce bad law?

Yes, indeed I do. It is the point I have been making at great length all afternoon. In making that point, I would like to thank the Minister for her patient answers to my almost interminable questions. She has done that with great grace and thoughtfulness, for which I am deeply appreciative, but I am still in disagreement. I think this clause would be better left out of the Bill. If we are going to make a change, it needs to be thoroughgoing; otherwise, we simply reinforce the offence of the Act of Settlement and the wording of the Bill of Rights. We need to live, however, with our great and noble history, which is part of what we have grown up with, part of being a subject of the Queen, and part of being a person of the United Kingdom, to put it that way. My preference is for the clause to be removed, but if it is to be included, it should be part of a thoroughgoing reform that allows a Catholic to succeed, but protects the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

With the leave of the Committee, Mr Bone, I shall be very brief.

Let me again acknowledge the breadth and, indeed, the quality of the arguments that have been advanced this afternoon. I shall not even begin to attempt to define key points in important religions, and for that reason I shall not accept the challenge issued to me by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I do not think that it is for a Minister to do that. However, I also acknowledge that clauses such as this lead to tensions in Government.

The existing legislation prevents a successor to the Crown from marrying a Catholic. I hear the arguments that the proposal in the Bill may create a situation requiring—as one Member put it—wisdom and good sense on the part of parents, and indeed the child himself or herself, and I accept that that constitutes a tension, but I believe that the clause strikes a balance that will be helpful to the 21st-century monarchy.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Consent of Sovereign required to certain Royal Marriages

I beg to move amendment 2, page 1, line 20, after ‘descendants’ insert ‘from the marriage’.

Clause 3 is, as one Member put it earlier, one of the more arcane provisions in the Bill. The Royal Marriages Act 1772 currently requires, subject to some very limited exceptions, the descendants of George II to seek the consent of the monarch before marrying. That probably affects hundreds of people, and we do not think that such a sweeping provision continues to serve a useful purpose today.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

I do not intend to detain the Committee for long. I merely wish to ask the Minister to address herself to questions that have been raised about the number six. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) suggested one explanation, and other Members made further suggestions. I should also like the Minister to consider how the Government envisage the discharging of the sovereign’s consent in practice, and whether the decision on granting that consent could depend on the religion of the person concerned.

Would it not be helpful if the Minister at least told us that the Government would consider amending the Bill in another place to ensure that the provision could not be used to prevent an heir to the throne from marrying a Roman Catholic?

Absolutely. Earlier, a Government Member referred to clause 2(1), in which we seem to think we are telling ourselves that we are removing the bar on the marriage of an heir to the throne to a Roman Catholic. However, it could well be that clause 3 allows the sovereign to continue to exercise such a bar, or a future monarch to exercise it, precisely to avoid some of the issues that other Members have already raised.

Does the hon. Gentleman think it would be helpful if the Minister were to clarify the position on what we think is implied by the Bill, which is that clause 2(1) is subject to clause 3(1)?

That would be very helpful, because the problem is that clause 3(1) reads as though it could be an ouster for clause 2(1); the joker still rests with a future monarch to refuse marriage on the grounds I have set out. Of course other issues might arise, and this provision would be the subject of all sorts of conjecture and speculation. The Government would therefore want to clarify it where they can, if not today, at least on a future occasion.

In this stand part debate, I would like the Minister to address one other area, which has not yet been raised. The Bill refers solely to marriage and does not mention civil partnership. I therefore take it that somebody would not be barred from having their place in the line of succession if they had a civil partnership, with or without the consent of the sovereign. The provision specifically refers exclusively to marriage, so will the Minister clarify that it would not present an issue in respect of a civil partnership? Such a partnership might raise its own issues for the Churches, particularly the Church of England. I wonder why the Government specifically refer to marriage, because most other bits of legislation that refer to marriage also refer to civil partnership.

Would it not have been more sensible, in this constitutional monarchy of ours—no matter what one thinks of that as a system of government—for the person succeeding to the throne to be determined either by God, through the accident of birth, or through Parliament? It should not be determined by the caprice of the monarch.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for speaking up for God as well as for Parliament. His point again raises some of the issues that we have been dealing with today and the difficulties we find when we get into the constitutional fineries, particularly those of an unwritten constitution.

Let me return to the issue of civil partnerships and why the Bill contains no reference to them. I remind the Minister that equal marriage legislation will be coming before the House, and many hon. Members will be tabling and supporting amendments that would also seek to have opportunities in respect of civil partnerships. They may propose that civil partnerships would no longer be restricted as an option only for same-sex couples, but would be open for other people to register their loving relationship, so that couples of either type would have an equal choice between the rite of marriage and civil partnership. That equal marriage legislation might be amended so that civil partnerships could end up being available to people of different sexes, and therefore children would issue from those, too. So again the question arises: why do this Bill and this clause refer only to consent for marriage, and not consent for civil partnership?

I am grateful to the Minister for suggesting on Second Reading that in 200 or 300 years I may be Father of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) may have something to say about that, either now or in 200 or 300 years’ time.

May I press her on the clause a little more, because her earlier remarks cause me to do so, and refer her to clause 2 of the Royal Marriages Act 1772? It states:

“In case any descendant of Geo. 2.—

George II—

“being above 25 years old, shall persist to contract a marriage disapproved of by his Majesty, such descendant, after giving 12 months notice to the Privy Council, may contract such marriage; and the same may be duly solemnized, without the previous consent of his Majesty; and shall be good; except both Houses of Parliament shall declare their disapproval thereof.”

In other words, if someone is over 25 and has made their intentions clear to the Privy Council, they can get married unless Parliament says that they cannot.

The Bill states in clause 3:

“A person who (when the person marries) is one of the 6 persons next in the line of succession to the Crown must obtain the consent of Her Majesty before marrying.”

In other words, no matter how old that person is they must actively gain the consent of the monarch before marrying and must wait for the Queen or King to say yes. Any reasonable person would infer that the Government appear to be trying to tighten the rules about whom members of the royal family can marry and to give the monarch some extra leverage. Will the Minister confirm that? If that is the case, can she explain much more clearly, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) asked, why six has been chosen for the number of those in the line of succession who are subject to this rule? If the idea is to tighten the rules and make it easier for the sovereign to control whom his or her descendants close to the line of succession may marry, surely the number should be greater than six or we should prescribe that it applies to the heirs and descendants of Elizabeth II. Surely grandchildren of a reigning monarch who are Royal Highnesses and active members of the royal family might not be subject to the provision.

I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could make the decision-making process in reaching that number clear and tell us what advice the Government were given about the number six, why they rejected other numbers and why they rejected the idea of having no numbers. That will allow us to be clear about the Government’s intentions.

I rather agree with the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher). I am wholeheartedly in favour of getting rid of the 1772 Act, which seems a ludicrous piece of legislation that has always been ineffectual. It has encouraged monarchs to be capricious in granting or not granting consent and it was introduced as a capricious piece of legislation. My problem is with clause 3, which is meant to replace it. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, there is no stipulation about whether such permission is necessary for a civil partnership. I presume that all six members could form a civil partnership and succeed to the throne without that being an issue, but if the Government’s same-sex marriage proposals were introduced, they would then have to make a request and have consent granted. I simply do not understand, and I am afraid the Minister has made it far worse for me this afternoon than it was before. Her suggestion that some convenience will be drawn up between Ministers who might or might not be advising means that there will be no clarity for Parliament.

For instance, a potential future heir to the throne might be denied consent to marry by the monarch deliberately because they wanted to exclude them from the succession, and for no other reason. The Bill makes no provision to state that that would be inappropriate. I say that that might happen in the future, because that is precisely what George III tried to do to George IV through the 1772 Act. If the clause is carried into legislation, the monarch will be able, entirely of their own volition and without any guidance from Parliament, to decide who should be excluded from the succession. The only thing that might militate against that would be if somebody got married before they became one of the six or before the monarch took offence or a dislike to them.

The Minister pointed out that other countries have similar provisions. It is true that, of the constitutional monarchies in Europe, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands have similar provisions. However, Norway has no such provision—it just has a simple law of succession, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said. It is provided for by the caprice of God, as it were, whereas in two of the three countries that have a similar provision it is a vote of Parliament that decides. For the Crown and the Crown’s Ministers to reserve to themselves the decision as to who should be barred from the succession flies in the face of the history of this country, as the succession is a matter that has always been decided by the whole of Parliament—both Houses of Parliament—through statute law. That is why I am deeply, deeply suspicious of the first three subsections, and my suspicions have been made far worse by what the Minister has said this afternoon.

The Minister owes the House and perhaps the wider nation and realms beyond these shores an explanation as to why the number six has been selected in subsection (1), and what considerations have been brought to bear on the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) suggested an alternative, and said that the measure should apply to all heirs and successors of Queen Elizabeth II. I am concerned that, if we moved in that direction, such a measure would contain the seeds of its own obsolescence, rather like the Royal Marriages Act 1772 excluding all the descendants of George II except for those with a particular exemption. The numbers would balloon over time, and many of the same issues would remain.

The key issue to which the Minister should respond, and which Parliament should debate before the measure becomes law, is whether subsection (1) is subject to clause 2(1). For me, that is an important point. Having listened to all the debate, I remain undecided as to whether the Bill is an improvement on the status quo because it removes the discrimination with respect to a Catholic being able to marry someone who may inherit the throne, or whether I ascribe to the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that it may kill a minor discrimination at the expense of reopening the whole issue, and we would then be looking at the Act of Settlement as amended by the Bill increasing the offensiveness of those words on the statute.

I can see the virtue of both arguments, but what weighs in the balance is the question of whether clause 2(1) is an absolute improvement or whether it may be overturned by a Crown decision under clause 3(1) acting under the prerogative on Ministers’ advice, which could still lead to someone being excluded as a result of marrying someone of the Roman Catholic faith, notwithstanding clause 2(1). I should appreciate it if the Minister provided clarity on that, preferably today, but if not, in subsequent proceedings.

As the Minister knows, we support the Bill, particularly clauses 2 and 3. However, a number of Members have raised the issue that the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) just mentioned. He put it very well, and there appears to be a contradiction, or at least a potential contradiction, between clause 2(1) and clause 3(1). If there is, which provision has precedence? That is an important point, and if explicit clarification cannot be given now it would be advantageous, if it is provided when the Bill goes to the other place. That reinforces the point made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), which was well put.

Will the Minister take a step back and consider the rationale behind the clause? A different approach would have been to make the reference point the descendants of George VI, rather than the descendants of George II. I do not know how many descendants that would include, but in some ways it would have been clearer, instead of the apparently arbitrary figure of six.

I endorse the comments of those who asked why six. The Deputy Prime Minister said that it was a pragmatic decision. The Minister suggested that there was some historical justification. We need a little more meat on that skeleton to justify the figure of six. If six is seen to be a fairly arbitrary figure, perhaps it is not too late to rethink the rationale for the way the clause is framed. We support the intention behind the clause. Clearly, what is on the statute book is unacceptable and even ridiculous, but we need to find a rational and sensible way to move beyond that.

Clause 3(2) states that when consent has been obtained,

“it must be-

(a) signified under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom,

(b) declared in Council, and

(c) recorded in the books of the Privy Council.”

That is clear as it stands, but what are the implications for public knowledge of what decisions might be taken? It would be useful to know if any of these decisions will be made available to the public at some point in the future. Would we have to wait a number of years? Would the decisions be subject to freedom of information requests? Those are reasonable questions. We need a monarchy that is modern, in tune with the thinking of our times and supportive of the principle of transparency. I would welcome clarification on those points.

The Minister referred to the 1967 provisions. As I understand it, that was because some members of the Cabinet were unhappy at the idea of somebody in the line of succession to the throne marrying a divorcee. Obviously, that does not apply today, where the other person’s partner is still alive. This cannot be left to the discretion of the monarch and of Ministers. It must come to Parliament.

That is almost an extrapolation of what I was saying. If the decision is in the public domain, it becomes, in a sense, the property of Parliament and it is open to us to discuss the issue, if not to make a determination. I would welcome the Minister’s response to those points.

I have only one question on the clause. It relates to the position of members of the royal family who are not among the first six and therefore not subject to the new royal marriages Act. As the Minister will know, members of the royal family are generally excluded from Marriage Acts, as they have been from Hardwicke’s Marriage Act onwards, and I would be concerned if members of the royal family who were not the six closest to the throne had any complications in being certain that their marriages were valid.

I wonder, therefore, what the Government’s view on this is and whether any future legislation is intended, or whether it is intended that members of the royal family outside the six will be brought under the normal Marriage Acts in future.

Now might be the moment to make a few general comments on clause stand part, as well as to respond to hon. Members’ questions. As has been made particularly clear, clause 3 repeals the Royal Marriages Act 1772 and replaces it with provisions that we believe are more suitable for the modern context. The original 1772 provision probably affects hundreds of people. We do not think that such a sweeping provision is practical or serves a useful purpose today. Indeed, if we want to dwell on Cabinet history, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who thought that those provisions were obscure and unsatisfactory, might note that this was raised by the Cabinet as far back as 1960.

Clause 3 seeks to ensure that the sovereign’s consent is obtained before the first six people in the line of succession can marry. Various hon. Members have asked why the number is six. I want to answer that question with reference to the reasonable reach of changes, which I referred to earlier. There is a question about unreasonably changing the legitimate expectations of those closest to the throne, and I think that we ought to take a cautious approach in such an area. The Government believe that the consent of the monarch for the marriages of the first six people in the line of succession provides a measure of reasonable proximity. Indeed, since the 1772 Act was enacted, the throne has never passed to anybody who was more than six steps away in the line of succession. Therefore, subsection (1) limits the requirement to seek the monarch’s consent to the first six people.

If the Crown has not passed to anyone beyond No. 6, has it passed to anyone who was No. 6? If so, is that the rationale for choosing that number?

Historians in the House might leap to correct me, but I understand that Queen Victoria was the most extreme example, at No. 5. I hope that answers my hon. Friend’s question.

Let me turn to the notion that the sovereign ought not to have a part in that decision. The role of the sovereign in giving consent to a royal marriage is part of our tradition and is entrenched in law. The Government also consider that there is a public interest in the marriages of those closest to the throne, so we believe that the requirement to seek the sovereign’s consent continues to serve a valuable purpose.

If my hon. Friend accepts that the public have a legitimate interest in active members of the royal family, who might be styled “Royal Highness”, and that the monarch might therefore wish to have some control over who they marry, does she not agree that the monarch might wish to have some control over those who are seventh, eighth or ninth in line to the throne marry, as they, too, might be active members of the royal family who are styled “Royal Highness”?

Two points need to be made in response to that question. We here in Parliament, taking due account of our responsibilities to legislate on such matters, do so cautiously. We have used a pragmatic number, and I have tried to explain from where we have derived that number. We think that it is cautious and pragmatic. However, I also referred to the notion of the people who come within the scope of the Bill also exercising wisdom, good sense, pragmatism and caution. I suggest that it would not be beyond the realms of possibility for a person who is No. 7 or No. 8 to be careful in such matters. That is perhaps as far as I ought to go on that, but I do not think that that is beyond the bounds of reasonableness. However, the fact is that we in Parliament have to fix a number. I have tried to explain why we think that number ought to be six.

Will my hon. Friend help me, because I simply do not understand what she means by five, six or seven. For example, what was Queen Victoria’s number in relation to the previous King?

Putting blood relationships to one side, as I understand it Queen Victoria was the fifth in line to the point at which those consents were sought. We want the current monarch to be able to look ahead six times. It is the case that the throne has never passed to anyone more than six steps away in the line of succession. I hope that those two points answer my hon. Friend’s question.

It might help my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) if I went through the list as it relates to Queen Victoria in relation to George III. George III’s heir, George IV, is No. 1; Princess Charlotte is No. 2; King William is No. 3; the Duke of Kent is No. 4; and Queen Victoria is No. 5. That is how we get to five on the basis that the Minister has been calculating.

I am eternally grateful in so many ways to my hon. Friend. I suppose that an alternative way of expressing the point would be to say that the throne had changed hands five times. I hope that the combination of comments has made things clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner).

Let me turn to the common question, asked by several hon. Members, of whether clause 2 knocks out clause 3, as it were. I want to answer it with reference to what I said to the hon. Member for Rhondda. The monarch will act having taken advice from Ministers, who will wish to take account of the public interest. That is a clear expression of my earlier point.

If, as I hope, the Bill passes, clause 2 will stand and Ministers will need to have regard to it if they consider a situation under clause 3.

What happens if, for instance, the monarch disagrees with Ministers and Parliament disagrees with Ministers or the monarch—if it takes one side or the other? There is no means of determining a proper reason for coming to the decision, and now the Minister has added yet another category, which is that No. 7 and No. 8 in the line of succession have to be careful. This is just a mess.

The legislation is clear. The sovereign’s consent is required. The 1772 Act, as the hon. Gentleman identified, had a role for Parliament. Clause 3 repeals that Act and replaces it with provisions under which the sovereign’s consent is required. Clause 3(2)(a), (b) and (c) explains how that occurs.

I will be happy to come back to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) with further details about how data are handled under those three categories; as he well knows, there is a greater debate to be had.

I want to reiterate and clarify my points about Nos. 7 and 8 in the line of succession. I simply note that the line of succession is such that, without being blunt about it, people pass away. Nos. 7 and 8 ought to be able to expect that such situations change; that is the only comment I make. It is therefore clear that a certain amount of pragmatism should go into that situation.

I am not sure what “being careful” means. Nowhere in the Bill is a valid reason given for not giving consent. For instance, would marrying a drug baron be a reason for not giving consent? I raise that because that was the case in the Netherlands, and it was one reason why consent was denied. But it was denied by Parliament, because that is the Dutch system, which is much more sensible. Would it be legitimate to refuse consent on the basis of there being a same-sex marriage?

I shall be happy to come in a second to the provisions on civil partnership and same-sex marriage.

On the use of caution, I simply reiterate the point that I have made several times in the course of the debate—that we are talking about human beings and, on the whole, a limited family. It is not beyond the bounds of reason for members of that family to act with regard to the legislation that we are passing. I will leave it at that, as Mr Bone would of course stop me if I went further into matters that are outwith the scope of this Bill. There is a need for Parliament to select a number, and I have explained why six is appropriate. I have also attempted to deal with what happens to members in the line of succession who might be close to becoming No. 6.

The Minister said that six is a practical number, but she also said that Nos. 7 and 8 will need to be “careful”. Needing to be careful might be interpreted in their minds as, “Get married quick before anything happens that means that you become No. 6 and therefore have to get the monarch’s consent.” It might appear to mean, “Marry in haste.”

I have nothing more to add to the comments I made a few moments ago. I think that in these situations a degree of pragmatism might prevail.

The Minister talks about practicalities and pragmatism, and people showing good sense. May I remind her that Queen Victoria had nine children, all of whom contracted marriage? Under these proposals, six of them would have had to seek the Queen’s consent to marriage and three would not. Is that sensible? Would the Queen have been amused?

My hon. Friend asks me to comment on a direct historical precedent. I do not think it is helpful to do that, because it is, after all, the past. Mr Evans, who is now in the Chair, would of course stop me if I sought to impute any opinion to any member of the royal family, past or present.

Let me move on to what the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said about civil ceremonies and civil partnerships. There is no bar on the heir or other members of the royal family marrying in a civil ceremony. Moreover, I am unaware of any legal bar to somebody who is in a same-sex relationship acceding to the throne. I would envisage that the sovereign’s consent measures in clause 3 would continue to be the case for same-sex relationships. I will not comment on legislation that this House has not yet considered, which, as the hon. Gentleman might understand, would cover the notion of same-sex marriage.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I have been trying to clarify whether clause 3(1) will be subject to clause 2(1). The Minister has said that Ministers would have regard to clause 2(1) in advising the Crown on use of the prerogative. Is that an intentionally weaker formulation than being subject to clause 2(1)?

My response was not in any way an attempt to fail to answer my hon. Friend’s question. As clause 2 will be a part of this legislation, it will be lawful for Ministers to refer to it. I would therefore say that clause 2 does apply to decisions made under clause 3.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly and my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) suggested alternative ways of replacing or updating the Royal Marriages Act 1772. My hon. Friend suggested that we simply substitute descendants of George II with those of Elizabeth II, our current monarch, and the hon. Gentleman suggested that we do the same with regard to the descendants of George IV. Either of those approaches could lead to an identical ballooning of the problem that we have seen under the Royal Marriages Act. It is obvious that the situation would only get worse with time as more and more descendants came into existence. A sensible approach is to replace the unworkable provisions of the Royal Marriages Act with a measure that is limited, pragmatic, and, as the Bill suggests, subject to procedures including the Great Seal and Order in Council.

Finally, clause 3(5) makes provision that marriages previously made void by the Royal Marriages Act are not to be regarded as invalid, which is important. Subsection (6) ensures that the validity of the descent of the Crown from King George II down to the present day will not be affected by the changes in subsection (5). We have already covered the other subsections. The measures provide a sensible update. We have already dealt with the Government amendment that ensures that the clear policy intention behind the Bill is correctly expressed by it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Commencement and short title

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I rise to speak briefly to clause 5 because earlier, when I put it to the Deputy Prime Minister that this Bill, if and when it is enacted by this Parliament, will not be effective until such time as it has been ratified by the legislatures of the other 15 realms, the Deputy Prime Minister was unfortunately not able to give me an answer as to when he thought that process might be complete. Although I understand that he confirmed that this Bill will not be enacted until the other 15 realms have enacted their provisions, will my hon. Friend the Minister expand on and enlighten the House about subsection (3), which states that the provisions will come into force at different days and times?

I shall certainly do my best. I thank my hon. Friend for seeking to end our debate with an issue about which we spoke earlier.

All the realms need to bring these measures into force. We have a clear commitment from them that they are doing so, and we are working closely with them to ensure smooth application. It is difficult to give a date today, but I shall endeavour to keep not only my hon. Friend, but the House updated on it. As I think he knows, not all the realms need to legislate, so slightly different processes will take place in each. The agreement between the Commonwealth countries is that the measures will apply from the point in 2011 when agreement was secured.

Is my understanding correct that, under the Statute of Westminster 1931, although individual Parliaments in the respective states of the Commonwealth might give their assent in different ways, they do have to give their assent?

I share that understanding. The hon. Gentleman reinforces my point that although other realms will make their provisions in slightly different procedural ways, we certainly expect that to happen and I look forward to them being brought into force.

I apologise for persisting in this, but much emphasis has been given throughout the day to the idea that, if we amend this Bill, that might prejudice the agreement that was reached at Perth. Presumably that stricture applies to all the other 15 realms. Does my hon. Friend have any intelligence to share with the House in how others see it? Also, if any of those 15 realms were to amend their legislation, would that affect us?

As I said, I think it is best to acknowledge the challenges in that co-ordination process, and my hon. Friend makes clear some of the complexity involved. As I said, we are working with those realms to ensure smooth application of the legislation, and I look forward to keeping the House updated.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.


Consequential amendments

Question proposed, That the schedule be the schedule to the Bill.

I want to ask the Minister about the provisions relating to the Treason Act 1351. I presume that one reason why different legislatures around the world might come to slightly different legislative answers, yet still give the same assent, is that they have different provisions on the law of treason, whereas we still have the 1351 Act on the statute book. Why has the Minister insisted on including paragraph 1(b) in the schedule?

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to draw me into matters that have been the subject of public controversy in relatively recent years. The important point, as he suggested, is that the realms to which the Bill will apply have other relevant legislation and customs. For example, one of the many reasons why we are not discussing hereditary peerages today is that they are not a uniform matter across all the realms. There are other reasons, but you will be pleased to know that I shall not reopen the debate, Mr Evans. I confirm that we are working with all the other realms to ensure that the relevant legislation is amended appropriately.

I would rather the Question be put.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule accordingly agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill, as amended, reported.

Bill to be considered tomorrow.