Bill challenges ‘Catholophobic’ succession laws

By Alex Stevenson

Evan Harris says he is confident his attempt to abolish the ban on the monarchy marrying a Catholic will meet with cross-party support.

After coming fifth on the private members’ bill he has a realistic chance of getting his draft legislation, which would end over three centuries of discrimination against Catholics, into law.

The 1701 Act of Settlement states only Protestant heirs of Sophia, granddaughter of James I, can claim the throne.

That would be altered by the royal marriages and succession to the crown (prevention of discrimination) bill, which has its second reading on February 27th.

“It’s highly symbolic because it is Catholic-specific – they just cannot marry a Catholic,” Dr Harris told politics.co.uk.

“The language of that part of the Act is Catholophobic. But getting it through depends on getting support.”

Previous attempts by MPs including Conservatives Edward Leigh and John Gummer have met with positive noises from the government.

Last year justice secretary Jack Straw said the government was “ready to consider” changing the law.

And Dr Harris believes there is no indication the Conservatives plan to oppose the bill, suggesting it stands a reasonable chance of becoming law.

He remains cautious, however, noting finding a quorum is a “challenge for all private member’s bills” and that negotiating the report stage must be done amid serious time constraints.

“Some people do it because they want to get their name on a bill [which gets] into law,” Dr Harris explained.

“I’ve done that through amendments to government bills. So I wanted to take on an area where there’s no opportunity to do this. And I feel strongly about discrimination.”

Dr Harris’ bill also proposes ending primogeniture – which sees any male heir superseding females even if they are older.

He said Britain should follow other countries – including Sweden – who have updated their succession laws in modern times.