Succession to the Crown (Amendment)

– in the House of Lords at 3:40 pm on 2 December 1999.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 3:40, 2 December 1999

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to allow that Her undoubted prerogative and interest may not stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament during the present Session of any measure to remove the bar on a person who is not, or who is married to a person who is not, a Protestant to succeed to the Crown, and for connected purposes.--(Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.)

Photo of Lord St John of Fawsley Lord St John of Fawsley Conservative

My Lords, I have taken advice on this matter both from the learned Clerks and from the Chairman of Committees and this is a debatable Motion. Nevertheless, I shall speak only briefly. I do not wish to go into the substance of the issue, but rather to the modalities; namely, whether this is a correctly-worded form of Address and whether it is an appropriate way of raising a major constitutional issue.

First, I turn to the wording. In a matter of such importance the wording is all-important. It refers to removing a bar against succession to the Throne of a person who is married to a person who is not a Protestant. No such bar exists; the Act of Settlement 1700 forbids succession to the Throne of anyone who marries a papist. I do not object to the word "papist", but regard it as a term of honour. That is the wording, and the wording is vital. The Act says that if one marries a papist one is out of the royal stakes; but if one is married to a papist--that is, if he or she becomes a Catholic after marriage--there is no bar. That is contradicted by the Address. It is not an academic legal point. The Duke of Kent is married to a lady who, some years after the marriage, became a Roman Catholic. The Duke in no way lost his right of succession to the Throne. The Palace made it plain that that was the situation at the time. The Duke and his children in no way are deprived of their rights of succession. Therefore, I submit that the wording of the Address is fatally flawed.

My second point is that this is a matter of extreme complexity. The status of the Sovereign's Coronation Oath, made in 1952, is brought into the issue. The Address involves the amending of not only one statute, but of many, including the Act of Union with Scotland of 1706. Under the Statute of Westminster 1931, if the Address were to lead to legislation, that legislation would have to be approved by all the relevant Commonwealth governments and by their parliaments. Therefore I ask your Lordships to draw the conclusion that surely such a major matter is best set in train--and should be set in train--by the Government and Opposition parties officially acting together and not by a single Peer, even one so respected as my noble friend, whose intentions are beyond reproach.

Therefore, before we go through another period of debate, I ask my noble friend to consider the institution which I am sure he is seeking to benefit. The Crown has been through an unparalleled period of turmoil, and it has emerged successfully. It now needs a period of tranquillity, consolidation and peace. I repeat to my noble friend the words of a great Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne: "Why cannot you let it alone?"

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, is correct on all the points of form. What he has said deserves careful attention. However, subject to that point, on the substance of the matter, when properly digested, I have considerable sympathy for the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. If it were to come back in a digested form, I should wish to express that sympathy. My family had a share in creating the problem and would like a share in clearing it up.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 14; Not-Contents, 65.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.