British PM committed to reforming royal discrimination

28th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Under current British law, royals cannot take the throne if they marry a Catholic and women are not treated equally in the line of succession.

London -- Britain is mulling reforms to a 300-year-old law that bars royals from taking the throne if they marry Catholics and puts women on unequal footing in the royal line, reports said Friday.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Buckingham Palace officials have discussed plans to change the rules of succession the BBC and newspapers said. Their plans include amending the rules to give royal women the same rights as men to be crowned monarch. The current rules state that the first-born son of the monarch takes precedence in the succession over older sisters.

"There are clearly issues about the exclusion of people from the rights of succession and there are clearly issues that have got to be dealt with," Brown told the BBC. "This is not an easy set of answers. But I think in the 21st century people do expect discrimination to be removed and they do expect us to be looking at all these issues."

Parliamentary proposals on reforming the 1701 Act of Settlement have been made by lawmaker Evan Harris, from the opposition Liberal Democrats.

He told the House of Commons Friday the proposals were aimed at ending "what I think most people would consider to be outrageous discrimination in our constitution against Roman Catholics and equally unfair treatment of women."

Harris added: "I come to this not from a religious perspective but from the perspective of recognising whatever someone's religious views, or views of the royal family, the fundamental basis on which our constitution should be run is one that doesn't include unjustified discrimination."

The proposals have support across the British political spectrum but they are unlikely to win ministerial backing at this stage, as the government needs to prepare the ground for such a complex undertaking, said the BBC.

David Cameron, the leader of the main opposition Conservatives, said he backed the proposed reforms.

"I would like it to change,” said Cameron. “It does not make sense in the 21st century to say that men have priority over women when it comes to inheriting the throne. It does not make sense to say that the king cannot marry a Catholic. So we do need change but we have to recognise that the queen is not just our queen. She is the queen of all the Commonwealth countries that have her as their head of state so this is not an easy change to make."

Brown said he would raise the prospect of the reforms at a Commonwealth summit in November, as such changes would require the backing of the 15 other Commonwealth countries which have the British monarch as head of state.

The monarch is also traditionally the head of the Church of England.

The heir to 82-year-old Queen Elizabeth II is her oldest son, Prince Charles.

But under the current legislation, his son Prince William -- the second in line to the throne -- cannot marry a Catholic and become king.

If the 1701 act were changed, it could also allow the queen's only daughter, Princess Anne, to jump to fourth in line to the throne, ahead of her younger brothers Prince Andrew and Prince Edward and their children.

An opinion poll for the BBC showed strong public support for reform of the monarchy, with 89 percent saying women should have the same rights of succession as men.

Harris, the lawmaker, said earlier that Brown's Labour government -- which faces a general election by the middle of next year -- had failed to keep its promises on ending discrimination.

Said Harris: "When first elected 12 years ago they said they would end unjustified discrimination wherever it exists. But there has been no action to back that up."

Guy Jackson/AFP/Expatica

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