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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 17:53 GMT
Royal anti-Catholic ban to stay
The Queen would not have been able to marry a Catholic

Moves to reform the monarchy and the 1701 Act of Settlement to enable the sovereign to marry a Catholic have been rejected by the House of Lords.

The former Conservative minister Lord Forsyth attempted to address the anomaly in the Lords but peers voted 14 to 65 against the motion.

Lord Forsyth had been seeking his fellow peers' agreement to ask the Queen for permission to make the changes but they rejected his request.

Lord Forsyth listens as Lord St John argues against change
The chief critic of the move, Lord St John of Fawsley said a single peer should not bring in such a momentous change without the support of the government and the opposition parties.

After the vote Lord Forsyth said he was surprised by the move but he agreed with Lord St John, who is himself a Catholic, that the reform should not be made in the form of a private members' bill.

Lord Forsyth said: "Obviously I am disappointed. We have been denied a proper chance for a debate.

"Clearly the feeling in the chamber was that this would be better dealt with by a government bill, and I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

"This is something that needs to be changed and I am not going to give up."

Speaking during the debate Lord St John, said: "Such a major matter as this is best set in train and should be set in train by the government and the opposition parties working together and not by a single peer."

He also said that as the "crown has been through an unparalleled period of turmoil - it now needs a period of tranquillity".

"Why can you not let it alone?" he asked.

Devil in the detail

The Tory peer also said Lord Forsyth's motion had been incorrectly worded.

He took issue with the Lord Forsyth who had been seeking to change the law to allow: "a person who is not, or who is married to a person who is not, a Protestant to succeed to the Crown".

Lord St John said simply: "there is no such bar". The Act of Settlement he said forbids succession to the throne "to anyone who marries a Papist."

This meant, he said, that anyone who marries a Papist is "out of the royal stakes" - but if he or she were to convert to Catholicism after marriage the Act of Settlement does not apply.

The ancient act aimed to ensure a Protestant succeeded to the throne in the aftermath of the revolution that saw the Catholic James II replaced by William and Mary in 1688.

It prohibits the heir to the throne marrying a Catholic but does not rule out marriage to a member of any other faith.

Other opponents to the change say a proposal to amend the Act of Settlement would spark a debate about the Anglican Church's status as the official state religion.

'Sympathy' for reform

For the Liberal Democrats Earl Russell said that although he had considerable "sympathy" for Lord Forsyth's position he believed that this was not the correct way to conduct the reform.

Ministers have so far ruled out the change as too "constitutionally complex" and have also said there is insufficient parliamentary time to bring in a change in the complicated laws surrounding the succession.

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See also:
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Catholic monarchy ban 'to continue'
18 Nov 99 |  Scotland
MSPs back Catholic throne bar repeal
29 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Blair rules out 'anti-Catholic' law reform

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