From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Succession and Defence Secretary Liam Fox.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) briefed the assembled journalists on a letter that had been sent to Commonwealth Heads of Government with the Prime Minister’s proposals to change the rules of succession. He said the letter had been sent at the end of last month, asking them to consider the proposals. The main changes would stop an elder daughter being succeeded to the throne by a younger son; abolish the law against a monarch being married to a Roman Catholic and remove from the statute books an old law which requires all descendants of King George II to ask the ruling monarch’s permission to marry.
Asked why these changes were being proposed now, the PMOS said that we were writing to governments ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Asked whether Her Majesty the Queen was involved in the process, the PMOS replied that she was aware of the proposals but that as a related to legislative changes, this was a matter for Parliament. Asked whether this would mean that legislation in the other Commonwealth countries would have to be changed, he said that he thought that some would, which was why we were consulting with them.
Asked whether it would remain the case that a Catholic could not become monarch, the PMOS said that this would remain the case. He explained that the reason for this is that the monarch is the Head of the Church of England and under the Act of Settlement, they must be in communion with the Church. Asked whether this would mean that a monarch or prospective monarch married to a Catholic could not bring up their children as Catholics, he said that the proposed changes were not about proscribing how to bring up children, but the Act of Settlement would still apply and any monarch must be in communion with the Church of England.
Asked whether these proposals would have to be implemented before the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (assuming this was a girl), the PMOS said that the proposals would relate to the descendants of the Prince of Wales. Asked whether this was the first time that the Prime Minister had said he wanted these changes, he replied no. Asked for a timeframe for the changes, the PMOS said that there would be an opportunity for further discussion at CHOGM but that the process could take some time.
Asked whether these changes were prompted by human rights concerns, he replied they were not. This was outdated legislation which was not consistent with modern values. The Royal Wedding and forthcoming Diamond Jubilee meant that is was a good time to raise the issue. Asked again about the involvement of the Palace and whether they had cleared the letter sent to the Commonwealth, he repeated that they were aware of the process. Asked which Acts would potentially have to be amended, he explained that there were a number of pieces of legislation that we would have to look at, including the Bill of Rights, the Coronation Oath Act, the Act of Settlement and the Royal Marriages Act.
Asked whether the Act which required all descendants of King George II to ask the ruling monarch’s permission to marry would mean that some people might have broken the law, the PMOS replied that that was why we were amending the legislation. Finally, asked whether the UK would draft any amended legislation for the Realms, he said we would look at the UK first; we were consulting with the other countries and we should wait for the outcome of that process.
Asked about the process for the report being produced by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell on Liam Fox, the PMOS said that Sir Gus was looking at the issue and we should await the outcome of that process. The Prime Minister had said that Liam Fox was doing an excellent job in reforming the Ministry of Defence in making it more efficient. Pressed on when the report would be published, he said that it would be done quickly, but thoroughly.