U.K. lawmakers will today debate a move to let a first-born daughter of Prince William and his wife Catherine succeed to the throne before any brothers, after a parliamentary panel said the changes were being forced through too quickly.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has proposed amendments to current laws, including the 1700 Act of Settlement, which 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. The plans have been agreed on with the governments of all 15 other Commonwealth countries of which Queen Elizabeth II is monarch.
“The current law also says that our monarch can’t be married to a Catholic; this legal ban doesn’t apply to any other faith -- not Muslims, Jews, Hindus, nor to atheists,” Clegg will tell the House of Commons in London, according to remarks released in advance by his office. “The reasons for this go back 300 years, to the days when Britain was worried about the threat from its Catholic neighbors, such as Louis XIV of France.”
The Constitution Committee in Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, raised concerns yesterday over the “fast-tracking” of the Succession to the Crown Bill, warning of “unintended consequences.” Children of an heir to the throne brought up in the Catholic faith would be unable to reconcile that with a future role as head of the Church of England if they become monarch, the lawmakers said.
“Catholics are normally obliged under canon law to bring up as Catholics any children from an inter-faith marriage,” the panel said in a report. “The proposal thus raises the prospect of the children of a monarch being brought up in a faith which would not allow them to be in communion with the Church of England. This would prevent them from acceding to the throne.”
Speaking to the Lords committee, Clegg dismissed the argument, saying the Catholic Church “has not had a doctrine for many years obliging people who are of a mixed religious denomination to educate their children as Catholics.”
The panel said that the possible unintended consequences of the legislation “demonstrate the need to provide the opportunity for full debate in Parliament.” Clegg’s office said the number of days the House of Commons would discuss the issue had been doubled to two to increase scrutiny.
The Church of England sent a letter to lawmakers yesterday welcoming the proposed changes. They are a “symbolic and practical measure consistent with respect for the principle of religious liberty,” the church wrote, according to a text released on its website. “It reflects the sea change in ecumenical relations over recent decades.”
William and Catherine’s first baby is due in July. The child will be third in line to the throne, after Prince Charles and William.
There have been 11 previous attempts to change the laws governing the royal succession since 1981, all of them failing through lack of government support.
The Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee said last year that the plan raises questions about how other hereditary noble titles are passed between the generations and whether the monarch should continue to be the head of the Church of England.