Thursday December 9, 2004
The rule of male primogeniture, by which the eldest son of a monarch becomes king even if he has an elder sister, will end if a bill published today is passed.
The succession to the crown bill, sponsored by the Labour peer and former minister Lord Dubs, would allow Prince William's eldest child to succeed him regardless of gender.
"Anachronistic rules of succession risk preventing the monarchy being acceptable to a full range of 21st-century British society," Lord Dubs warns.
"Support for changes that would reflect modern Britain's values on gender and religious discrimination would be all but universal."
The bill also seeks to remove the ban on a monarch marrying a Roman Catholic by excising from the Union with Scotland and Union with England acts of 1706 and 1707 the objection to "persons marrying papists".
Finally, it would abolish the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which requires that descendants of George II - except princesses marrying into a foreign family - obtain the monarch's consent in order for their marriages to be valid.
On male primogeniture, Lord Dubs says: "The idea that a female first-born heir should be passed over in favour of a younger brother is surely offensive to the vast majority of Britons, given the great social revolution that has occurred in the position of women over the three decades since the Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975.
"Supporters of the monarchy constantly pay tribute to the great dedication of the Queen over her 50-year reign, and it is surely better to make this change at a time when the princes, William and Harry, are first and second in line to the throne rather than wait until the moment when it would change the line of succession."
Lord Dubs describes the ban on a monarch marrying a Catholic as "an outdated piece of religious bigotry ... Prince William could live with a Catholic girlfriend without forfeiting the right to be king, but the moment they were married he would be instantly disqualified," he says.
He calls the 1772 act "the Dangerous Dogs Act of its day", saying it was "passed in haste owing to George III's chagrin that his relatives were getting married without consulting him".
But Lord Dubs warns that some traditional monarchists "treat the institution like a Ming vase and are afraid to disturb it at all for fear of destroying it, while some convinced republicans fear that reform would prevent the monarchy rotting to a slow death".
As a member of the Fabian Society Executive, Lord Dubs contributed to the society's Monarchy Commission report. The palace had welcomed the document as "a useful contribution to the debate", he said.
The last attempt to remove male primogeniture came in a 1998 bill sponsored by Lord Archer. At that time, the government said it did not oppose equality but wanted to bring in its own legislation. The bill was withdrawn, but no legislation has since been introduced.
Downing Street today declined to comment on the latest bill, which received its formal first reading in the House of Lords yesterday and is due for its second reading on January 14.