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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 18:23 GMT
Backing for monarchy law reform
The Queen in Edinburgh
The monarchy has been subject to the law since 1701
A newspaper's campaign to repeal the law which bans catholics from the British throne has won widespread support in Scotland.

The Act of Settlement was passed in 1701 and bars non-protestants, adopted children and people born to unmarried parents becoming or marrying the monarch.

On Wednesday, the day of the Queen's speech at Westminster, The Guardian demanded that the ancient piece of legislation be scrapped in order to comply with the new European human rights laws.

The Scottish National Party's Mike Russell won the support of more than 66 MSPs when he proposed a motion in the Scottish Parliament in November last year to have the act repealed.

Mike Russell
Mike Russell has welcomed the move
He has welcomed The Guardian's campaign and told BBC Scotland's Holyrood Programme: "To forbid people to do anything solely on the grounds of the religion they profess is quite clearly wrong and an anachronism that we should not have had for 100 years let alone 300."

Although the parliament north of the border has no powers to abolish the law, Mr Russell said the views of MSPs should carry "great moral authority".

Conservative MSP, Lord James Douglas Hamilton, said it seemed "quite wrong" that the state should discriminate against an established religion.

He added: "There is a case for a group of experts to look at the act, submit recommendations to the prime minister and then allow the matter to come before parliament."

I think such blatant discrimination has no place whatsoever in a modern 21st century

Dennis Canavan, MSP
Independent MSP Dennis Canavan said the act was "grossly discriminatory".

"It is also guilty of sex discrimination because the first born son has priority over any of the daughters in the family.

"It is also discriminatory on genetic grounds because it discriminates in favour of one particular family.

"I think such blatant discrimination has no place whatsoever in a modern 21st century," said Mr Canavan.

Outside politics, the abolition campaign has won the support of one of Scotland's leading academics, Professor Tom Devine of Aberdeen University.

Catholic church backing

The director of the research institute of Irish and Scottish Studies said the fact a Roman Catholic could not become monarch was "no longer of any relevance to our society".

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland also backed The Guardian.

Spokesman Father Danny McLoughlin said although the act had little real power its removal would be an "important symbolic gesture".

Dennis Canavan
Dennis Canavan believes in reform
It was an anachronism, he said, based on historical circumstances which no longer existed.

Fr McLoughlin added: "We would like to see any legislation which is anti-catholic removed. If the act was changed it would give a strong signal of the equality of religion. That would be a welcome thing."

Prior to The Guardian campaign, Scottish politicians had thrown their weight behind abolition calls.

Roseanna Cunningham, the SNP MP for Perth, tabled a House of Commons motion last November urging reform.

And about the same time two Scottish Tory peers - Lord Fraser of Carmyllie and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean - presented a bill to the House of Lords calling for the legislation to be scrapped.

PM rejected change

That failed to win enough support.

At the time Prime Minister Tony Blair said there were no plans to alter the act, saying there were far more pressing demands upon scarce legislative time.

The Guardian's legal challenge came as a Guardian/ICM poll of 1,003 people suggested that 66% think the ban on catholic succession should be lifted, while 63% disapproved of the ban on children to unmarried parents, and 68% on adopted children.

A total of 60% said they would prefer to be citizens than royal subjects and 30% thought there should be a vote on who should succeed the Queen when she abdicates or dies.

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See also:

22 Dec 99 | UK Politics
MPs urged to abolish anti-Catholic act
02 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Royal anti-Catholic ban to stay
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