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Friday, February 27, 1998 Published at 23:34 GMT

UK: Politics

Queen backs historic change to who may rule
image: [ The Queen's Coronation; her view is of the future ]
The Queen's Coronation; her view is of the future

The Queen has indicated her approval of plans to end the ages-old constitutional tradition of the first-born son succeeding to the British throne - a custom known as primogeniture.

The government has now signalled it will bring in new laws which would allow the first born child to succeed, regardless of their sex.

Labour MP and historian Gordon Marsden says history shows female monarchs have a good record (1'13")
The change, if passed, would make no difference to the right of the present heir, Prince Charles, and his eldest son, Prince William. But it could mean that if Prince William's first born child were a girl, then she would succeed to the throne.

The present Queen, Elizabeth II, took over as monarch only because her father, King George VI, died without sons.

[ image: Lord Williams:
Lord Williams: "Sons and daughters the same"
The Junior Home Office Minister Lord Williams of Mostyn told the House of Lords the Queen "had no objection to the Government's view that in determining the line of succession to the throne, daughters and sons should be treated in the same way".

According to the BBC's Court Correspondent, Palace officials say it is unprecedented for the Queen to make her views known ahead of legislation in this way.

Lord Williams was responding in a debate on the Succession to the Crown Bill, piloted by the novelist and former Conservative Party deputy chairman Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare (Jeffrey Archer).

He said a bill instigated by an individual peer was not an "appropriate vehicle" to bring in such a "major constitutional measure" and "ought properly to be the subject of a government bill".

He said: "We will be considering how to carry this through within government and in consultation with the Royal Family."

Lord Williams's announcement, which will involve consultation with 15 other Commonwealth countries that acknowledge the Queen as head of state, prompted Lord Archer to drop his measure.

Lord Williams said there could be "no real reason" for not giving equal treatment to men and women in this respect.

He said the government had consulted the Queen and rejected a protest from another peer who said it was "not normal " to make known the monarch's view of legislation before the House.

Lord Williams said the announcement had been cleared and added: "The United Kingdom cannot act unilaterally."

[ image: Lord Archer: history lessons]
Lord Archer: history lessons
Lord Archer asked the House: "Who among us would say, on balance, that our kings have been more impressive and have more impressive records than our queens?"

He added: "Queen Elizabeth II is respected and admired from one side of the globe to the other and the idea that her great grand-daughter should not be allowed to ascend the throne ahead of a younger brother is not only farcical but insulting to over half the population of this country."

Withdrawing his bill, he welcomed the fact that the government was taking the issue "very seriously indeed".

[ image: Prince William: change would come after his reign]
Prince William: change would come after his reign
He said he was confident that the succession law would be changed within his lifetime.

Tory peer Lord Gainford, 76, said he supported change.

"Women are beautiful and wonderful creatures," he said. "I enjoy their company. I am not a dirty old man. I am a very sexy senior citizen.

"They can drive men proverbially up the wall, across the ceiling and down the other side and we love 'em."

However, Baroness Blatch, speaking for the Conservatives - and the only woman among about 40 peers present - said she saw a need for a "much wider consensus across the political and social spectrum" for any change to the succession rules.

She criticised the "plethora of legislation which is dismantling centuries of tradition" and added: "Constitutional changes should not be made lightly. This should be the subject of wider, deeper, thoughtful and intellectual consideration."

[ image: Earl of Lauderdale:
Earl of Lauderdale: "Bad bill"
The Tory Earl of Lauderdale, father of ex-MP Lady Olga Maitland, also protested: "This little bill, an extraordinary piece of machinery for constitutional change, has wide ramifications. It's a bad bill."

Later Harold Brookes-Baker, director of Burke's Peerage, speculated that he thought the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, had been the catalyst for the planned change, along with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He added: "This is just one more step on the way to modernising the monarchy and bringing it from the 18th century into the 20th century."

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