Cameron Asks Former British Colonies to Change Succession Rules

Prime Minister David Cameron urged former British colonies to back his proposal to end rules that discriminate against women and Roman Catholics succeeding to the throne.

Cameron will propose the move at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia today to 15 countries including Canada, Australia and New Zealand that share Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state.

“These rules are outdated and need to change,” Cameron said in a statement released by his office before his arrival in Perth. “The thinking behind these rules is wrong. That’s why people have been talking about changing them for some time. We need to get on and do it.”

Current laws, including the 1700 Act of Settlement, give male heirs precedence over their older sisters. The act also excludes Roman Catholics or anyone married to a Roman Catholic from becoming king or queen. Foreign Office minister David Howell said last week he expects the proposal will be backed by Commonwealth states.

For three decades, ministers have resisted amending the law on the grounds that it’s too complicated and would need the agreement of other Commonwealth countries. Cameron said there was broad support for the changes among Britain’s main political parties.

After Prince William, the second in line to the throne, married Kate Middleton in April, Cameron put an overhaul of the rules onto the agenda for the summit in Perth.

Margaret Tudor

The amendment would only apply to future heirs to the throne. Were it applied today, Queen Elizabeth’s daughter, Princess Anne, would be fourth in line to the throne instead of 10th while Anne’s daughter, Zara Phillips, would be sixth in line rather than 12th, according to information provided by Cameron’s office. Margaret Tudor would have taken the throne instead of her younger brother, Henry VIII, in 1509.

Cameron proposed the change in a letter to counterparts in 15 former colonies last week. He also proposed scrapping the law that says that descendants of King George II, who reigned from 1727 to 1760, can only marry with the permission of the monarch.

Eleven attempts since 1981 to amend the laws governing the royal succession have failed through lack of government support. A 12th bill put forward by opposition Labour Party lawmaker Keith Vaz is currently before Parliament.

The move would bring the British crown in line with other monarchies including Sweden, which changed its rules in 1980. Cameron will seek to introduce legislation this year. Canada, Antigua and Saint Lucia would also have to overhaul laws to accommodate the change.

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