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BBC Scotland's Brian Taylor
"Labour ministers warned that change would be complex - and could not be an early priority"
 real 28k

BBC Scotland's John Morrison
"The debate was at times light-hearted"
 real 28k

Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 21:33 GMT
MSPs call time on Catholic monarchy ban

Parliament chamber MSPs seek reform of the 300-year-old act

MSPs have backed a motion to abolish a 300-year-old law which bans the monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic.

At the start of a debate into the Act of Settlement - which decrees that Britain's king or queen cannot be or wed a Roman Catholic - the Scottish National Party's Mike Russell said the Scottish Parliament could play a crucial role in ending the discrimination.

He told a packed chamber: "This is a blot on Scotland and it requires to be changed and this parliament can let its voice be heard and be instrumental in making that change.

"I hope the Prime Minister Tony Blair has listened to this, because it offends many thousands of people, and not just Catholics."

At present the monarch can marry a Muslim Buddhist, sun worshipper but not a Catholic - that is grossly unfair
James Douglas Hamilton, MSP
The debate at times was light hearted with Lord James Douglas Hamilton - Tory whip in the Scottish Parliament - saying: "At present the monarch can marry a Muslim Buddhist, sun worshipper but not a Catholic - that is grossly unfair."

The SNP accepted an amendment from the executive, which they were assured is not a wrecking tactic, and the motion was carried without a vote. The result will now be conveyed to the Government in London.

The parliamentary debate and outcome has been welcomed by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland.

'Important gesture'

Labour's Tom McCabe chief whip had questioned the timing of the debate on the change and said that if this was evidence of gesture politics then it should be avoided.

Scottish Socialist Party MSP Tommy Sheridan responded by saying that the parliamentary motion on the Act of Settlement was indeed a gesture but a very important gesture.

Although the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to amend the piece of legislation the debate is expected to send a clear message to Westminster to make changes.

More than half the politicians from all parties have signed a motion calling for the legislation to be amended.

Lord Forsyth Lord Forsyth: Attempt failed
The leader of Scotland's Catholics, Cardinal Thomas Winning, has called the act an "insult" to Catholics.

However, in a last ditch attempt to convince MSPs not to support a change, the Orange Lodge wrote to all 129 MSPs urging them to concentrate instead on what they said was the more blatant discrimination of separate Catholic schools.

One of the first serious attempts to amend the law was rejected by the House of Lords at the beginning of the month.

The former Conservative minister Lord Forsyth attempted to address the anomaly 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.

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.

'Anachronistic and anomalous'

The debate was sparked at the end of October by Mr Douglas Hamilton when he wrote to Mr Blair asking him to change the act, which he described as "anachronistic and anomalous injustice".

SNP MSP Kenny McAskill said the setback in the Lords was not the end of the matter.

He said: "Simply because it's been rejected by the House of Lords doesn't mean that repealing the Act of Settlement is not right and doesn't mean that we shouldn't seek to argue this within another forum.

"I have to say that probably for the first time in my life I'm in agreement with Michael Forsyth."

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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
02 Dec 99 |  Scotland
Pressure grows for royal reform
02 Dec 99 |  UK
The Catholic hopes for end to 'grubby secret'

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