End of the Anglican crown - 300 year bar to be lifted


Reforms would allow non-Protestant heir and end male priority





Downing Street has drawn up plans to end the 300-year-old exclusion of Catholics from the throne. The requirement that the succession automatically pass to a male would also be reformed, making it possible for a first born daughter of Prince William to become his heir.

The proposals also include limiting the powers of the privy council, in particular its role as arbiter in disputes between Scotland or Wales and the UK government.

The plans were drafted by Chris Bryant, the MP who was charged by Gordon Brown with reviewing the constitution. They are with the prime minister's new adviser on the constitution, Wilf Stevenson.

Sources said No 10 would like the legislation to be passed quickly in a fourth term and Bryant briefed constitutional pressure groups on the plans at a private seminar in Manchester this week.

Ministers have long thought it anomalous that it is unlawful for a Catholic to be monarch but have not had the political will to risk reforming the law.

The 1688 Bill of Rights , the Act of Settlement in 1701 and Act of Union in 1707 - reinforced by the provisions of the Coronation Oath Act 1688 - effectively excluded Catholics or their spouses from the succession and provided for the Protestant succession.

Neither Catholics nor those who marry them nor those born to them out of wedlock may be in the line of succession.

The law also requires the monarch on accession to make before parliament a declaration rejecting Catholicism.

Though the Act of Settlement remains a cornerstone of the British constitution, critics have long argued about its relevance in the 21st century, saying it institutionalises religious discrimination and male primogeniture.

Eight years ago, the Guardian launched a campaign for a change in the law, supporting a legal challenge on the grounds that the Act of Settlement clashed with the Human Rights Act.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, the constitutional lawyer who has represented the paper in challenges to the constitutional restrictions, said last night: "I welcome this as two small steps towards a more rational constitution.

"The Act of Settlement determined that the crown shall descend only on Protestant heads and that anyone 'who holds communion with the church of Rome or marries a Papist' - not to mention a Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Rastafarian - is excluded by force of law.

"This arcane and archaic legislation enshrined religious intolerance in the bedrock of the British constitution. In order to hold the office of head of state you must be white Anglo-German Protestant - a descendant of Princess Sophia of Hanover - down the male line on the feudal principle of primogeniture. This is in blatant contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act."

The next stage, he said, was for the government to challenge the notion of a head of state who achieved the position through inheritance.

Dozens of people have been barred from taking their place in the order of succession by the Act of Settlement.

In recent years the Earl of St Andrews and Prince Michael of Kent lost the right of succession through marriage to Catholics. Any children of these marriages remain in the succession provided that they are in communion with the Church of England.

In 2008 it was announced that Peter Phillips - the son of the Queen's daughter, Princess Anne - would marry his partner, Autumn Kelly. It emerged that she had been baptised a Catholic. She was quickly accepted into the Church of England before the marriage and Peter Phillips kept his place in the line of succession.

The Coronation Oath Act requires the monarch to "maintaine the Laws of God the true profession of the Gospel and the Protestant reformed religion established by law [...] and [...] preserve unto the bishops and clergy of this realm and to the churches committed to their charge all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain unto them or any of them".

Any change in legislation would, among other things, require the consent of member nations of the Commonwealth.

Constitutional experts have argued that reform of the Act of Settlement and its related statutes would set in train an inevitable momentum towards disestablishment, and disestablishing the Church of England would automatically remove the rationale for the religious provisions binding succession to the crown.


anomalous – anomalny, nieprawidłowy

appertain – odnosić się do, należeć do

arcane – tajemniczy

blatant – jawny

contravention – naruszenie, wykroczenie

draft – szkicować, kreślić

enshrine – chronić, zabezpieczać

momentum – pęd, impet

primogeniture – pierworództwo

privy council – królewski komitet doradczy

rationale – przesłanki, racjonalna podstawa

wedlock – stan małżeński

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