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Could there be a right royal kerfuffle over rules of succession?

Michael Crick | 13:16 UK time, Tuesday, 16 November 2010

So Prince William is getting married to Kate Middleton next year, which means that by the end of 2012 we could well start having another generation of heirs to the throne.

Politicians have long talked about changing the succession rules, which currently operate male preference primogeniture - male heirs getting preference over their older female siblings (which hasn't actually been an issue for many decades).

Lord (Jeffrey) Archer introduced a bill on this in the Lords in 1997 - before he went to jail - which was designed to remove any distinction between sexes in determining the succession to the Crown.

If I remember rightly the Palace and both the Major and Blair governments made sympathetic noises about what Archer was trying to do. And Lord (Alf) Dubs tried the same thing in 2004.

Surely now is the time to resolve this? And if the change was enacted right now, it wouldn't really affect any of the three immediate heirs to the throne - Charles, William and Harry.

But if it's left for another couple of years, and William and Kate have a girl, then there will be a right royal kerfuffle.

And it will be much trickier then since the issue would obviously affect known individuals, which might mean it has to be postponed for another generation.


A colleague has pointed out that the Labour MP Chris Bryant raised this issue in the Commons on 1 July this year.

The junior minister in charge of constitutional reform, Mark Harper, acknowledged then that "currently the first three members of the royal family in line to the throne are all male and so we have some time until there may be a pressing issue to address".

But Harper also argued that any change in the law would be difficult as the Queen is also "sovereign of a further 15 independent nations and they have a right, with us, to decide on the line of succession. I do not suggest that they would necessarily have any problems with removing outdated provisions, but it is not the substance of the issue that is the problem; the problem is how we go about doing that."

It would not just be a matter of changing the rules in the UK, but also in Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia which have federal constitutions.


  • Comment number 1.

    If we're changing the rules let's say no human can succeed. Much simpler.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes - let us spend time ensuring that William is the last hereditary ruler of our country and England gets an elected head of state.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good for them. It would be bizarre after Her Majesty's long reign that a Wayne Wales might take priority instead of an older Princess Kerry. Why did the Bills fail?

  • Comment number 4.

    Another excuse for the mainstream media to forget about telling the population that financial meltdown is near.

  • Comment number 5.

    so crick doesn't question the norman monarchy model? is that because the treason laws effectively gag any debate?

    hereditary norman monarchy model is by its nature anti democracy and discriminatory. If that model is so good why do we not adopt it in all other public functions including the BBC [where some say it is used in places]? Why did we not insist on it in iraq and Afghanistan? Why do we have less democracy than iraqis and afghans. Are we an inferior race?

    role gamers should not have a monopoly for head of state. which in effect is a privatisation of the head of state.

  • Comment number 6.

    Oh No......aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhhhh....another Royal wedding, please no, put me on a desert island anywhere away from a radio, TV, even internet, I have to hide in various outposts of the house as my wife has it on ALL THE TIME.....only in this country do we do God and Royalty on a manic scale...what does Jeremy think? Surely he must have a sense of forboding that all the prime issues that confront us will be shuffled off to the sidings of 'who gives a monkeys' it's a celebration of a family with more malcontents than Phil's in Eastenders.....please make it stop....

  • Comment number 7.

    I have been waiting for the Royal Wedding since Northern Rock went into meltdown. At least Her Majesty now thinks we have hit the bottom and the only way is up.

    My wife being a true Royalist will be ecstatic. For myself, sharing a couple of ancestors with Brenda in the dim and distant on the Scottish side, can they undo five centuries of primogeniture so that I can have a bash at the title? I'll even push past my older brother.

  • Comment number 8.

    Jauntycyclist, how exactly do the treason laws "stifle any debate"? As far as I'm aware there is nothing to stop an MP introducing a private members bill that would make this country a republic. Of course any such bill would almost certainly be talked out or left in a committee forever, but that isn't the same thing.

    I should also point out that the last time this country was a republic the "President" was a certain Oliver Cromwell.

  • Comment number 9.

    It is certainly time that the British people were asked in a referendum whether they wish to continue having an unelected Head of State.A ballot on the day of the wedding would seem a good idea.

  • Comment number 10.

    Actually, I should correct myself, since the last leader of the republic was of course Richard Cromwell.

  • Comment number 11.

    A royal wedding will give our economy a multi-billion pound boost at a time when it will be most needed. Yes I know there will be a lot of tat posing as commemorative crockery but people will buy it including tourists i.e. money from outside the UK being spent in the UK -just the ticket.

    I am 100% behind Michael's 'esoteric take' de jour. Why should the oldest heir be barred from becoming monarch on grounds of not being male? Yes, it would be nice if we could abandon the entire principle of people becoming kings and queens just by dint of making a successful progress from the uterus to the incubator. But let's get real, getting rid of the sexual discrimination is probably all we can hope for right now, but might, if successful, be a springboard for further long overdue revisionism.

    I see Michael didn't offer his congratulations to the happy couple. I suppose he didn't reckon he'd be in with much of a chance of a wedding invite!

    The happiest men today will be Ken Clarke and David Cameron who would otherwise have had to spend today explaining why the compensation paid to the alleged victims of torture was not actually a case of the British government becoming a victim of a sophisticated form of legal blackmail.

  • Comment number 12.


    So they put men first - so does the Church. And the Army - let's not be fooled. And a woman takes a man's surname in traditional marriage (you know, the bodily-worship and worldly-goods sort). Blokes always do the barbecue - and proper crime.

    While god is a man, and monarchy is all wrapped up with religion - leave it in fantasy-land, where it belongs.

    When we go to war with France, after the breakdown of life as we know it, we shall need a well built King on a big horse. (Too much to hope he will be ginger and have overthrown his brother? That would be wonderfully Shakespearean.) No soppy girls.

    Cry "God for Harry, England and St George!"

  • Comment number 13.

    Victoria and the past and present Elizabeths didn't exactly let the side down did they?

  • Comment number 14.

    As much as it's a good idea and everything, could I really find myself agreeing with Lord Archer?

  • Comment number 15.

    Yes I struggled with that too. But yet, just as I've heard it asked 'why should the Devil have all the good music', why should it be that the righteous should have sole dominion over all the good reformative proposals?

    After all, someone who was expelled from school for not paying attention in class came up with both the special and general theories of relativity, both of which have been so robustly supported by every test that theory is almost a misnomer, that we shouldn't worry so much where a good idea comes from, but merely whether it is good or not.

    But Lord Archer? It is hard!

  • Comment number 16.


    Dave says he slept on the Mall pavement for Diana's wedding. Can we send gumshoe Crick to fact-check that, going forward? Did the Bullingdon club have a Ritzomatic marquee?

    Sorry to doubt the dear boy, but he associates with a right bunch of pledgers. You can never be sure . . .

  • Comment number 17.

    Of course Dave did. It's hard for us to grasp but he is a true believer;
    the royal family, God, fox hunting...

    However for me he redeems himself by not strutting around the world like his predecessors making everyone else laugh at us because their actions suggested that we, with our £4.8 trillion national debt still thought we were a world power. For that refreshing realism and humility I can forgive him a lot.

  • Comment number 18.


    As far as I'm aware there is nothing to stop an MP introducing a private members bill that would make this country a republic....

    if you look at the treason laws you will see it is an offence to write that anyone else other than the monarch be head of state. Jack Straw said he was going to do something about the medieval treason laws but never did. So they still stand.

    the uk head of state is not an executive position but a ceremonial one ie handing out medals, tea parties etc. So it could be done on civil service pay on a three or 5 years year turn around. The executive power remains with the prime ministers office.

  • Comment number 19.


    Are you doing the irony thing TMR?

    I understood Dave is 'kinda hazy' in the god area? And a chap who can tell Chinese chaps (with the longest time line of all in my boys fold-out book) what is prop'ly required of them, must think his nuke is a size 10!

    Yeah - I think you are doing the irony.


  • Comment number 20.

    We should be thankful to lemon_flavoured for reminding us as to what happened to the English Commonwealth in 1659. Once Tumbledown Dick had opted for the quiet life - and at the time he was reckoned to be a pretty able guy - we were left with our affairs in the control of a junta of generals who were eventually supplanted by the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

    I have never thought that this is a very good advertisment for English republicanism and the only person who seemed to learn anything from it was Charles II who did his level best to soothe the extreme tensions in English society at the time. Sadly, he was not as successful in this as he should have been.

    Any concerns people may have as to a constitutional monarchy should be allayed if we just pause to consider the alternative of an elected head of state. Just ask yourself would you want Tony Blair as your President, ot even Cherie? The very thought makes one gag.

    The monarchy might be a bit quaint and on occasion absurd but it stands head, shoulders, body, thighs and knees above the opportunistic, vulgar arrivistes we would have thrust upon us as a head of state by the political parties.

  • Comment number 21.

    YES AND NO (#20)

    I still see monachy as the lynch-pin to 'places and sinecures' aka power/influence/wealth/corruption.

  • Comment number 22.


    ..Just ask yourself would you want Tony Blair as your President,..

    monarchists always bring this one out. Head of State is ceremonial. No one interested in power would go for it. Ireland have no problem.

    if the monarchist were so sure everyone would see monarchism as best then let it be decided in a free vote. But no they don't want democracy. In fact if you listened to the monarchists there would be any democracy. They only accepted when they were looking down the barrel of a cannon. They would rather have civil war than democracy. Who are the militarist junta? Those who want democracy or those who would go to war to prevent it?

    Given MPs have to swear n oath of allegiance to the monarchy they would have to break their monarchist oath in order to get rid of it. So a nice monarchist legal trap that embeds the cronyism.

    the monarchists will never willingly give up their cult worship.

  • Comment number 23.

    22 jaunty

    Might I suggest that you take the pragmatic view that what works is usually more practical than adherence to a preferred principle.

    When the Irish Free State was discussing its constitution the idea of restoring the High King was considered but discarded. I can understand why but at the same time with hindsight one could speculate that such an historic office may well have served to ease tensions between the nationalists and the Loyalists in the Six Counties.

    There is an argument that since the Speaker of the Commons is the highest elected commoner in the land then the ceremonial role of Head of State could revert there. However, if asked to choose between HM The QWueen and John Bercow, who is growing into his job quite well at the moment, who would most people opt for?

    As far as the oath of allegiance and MPs I think this is a misnomer. Since when did an MP feel that he has to keep his or her word? Recent experience suggests that the political class need to be constrained by both law and custom.

  • Comment number 24.

  • Comment number 25.


    I suggest your 'robust supports' are as vulnerable as those at 9/11 TMR.

    Things have moved on:

  • Comment number 26.

    'THE STRAW MAN SAID' (#18)

    If ever weasel words were eponymous . . .

  • Comment number 27.


    I had a document 'sworn' today. Both I and the solicitor signed it after I had delivered a 'form of words'.

    How we laughed when I suggested that if the 'wind changed' the document was worthless, under the CLEGG PROTOCOL. How we roared when I suggested it might soon be used in court to get out of some signed agreement.

    What it is to laugh. (Not Nick - he looked oddly glum while Dancing Dave used poor Harriden Harperson as his personal pole.)

    Oh - it's all going awfully honourably.

  • Comment number 28.


    You humble me TMR. Only a select few ever post: "I was wrong". We have all got used to "I was right - YOU did not understand!" (:o) I am a bit embarrassed about #25 now! Ah well, blog and be damned. Might as well add that in Dave:


  • Comment number 29.

    Dave did sleep on the pavement...but he was sleeping one off anything else is propaganda....

  • Comment number 30.

    RE post 18:

    ""if you look at the treason laws you will see it is an offence to write that anyone else other than the monarch be head of state. Jack Straw said he was going to do something about the medieval treason laws but never did. So they still stand.

    the uk head of state is not an executive position but a ceremonial one ie handing out medals, tea parties etc. So it could be done on civil service pay on a three or 5 years year turn around. The executive power remains with the prime ministers office.""

    Removing the treason laws in question would be a matter of passing a motion in the House of Commons (which probably wouldn't even need a vote). Even without doing that, you don't actually have to "write that anyone else other than the monarch be head of state". You just have to pass a law saying that the monarchy is abolished on the death of the current sovereign, which doesn't challenge the current monarch.

  • Comment number 31.

    The Tory convict,Thatcherite and well known perjurer, Lord Archer, reportedly ( Daily Politics ) said today that we should be happy as a nation to spend £20 million of taxpayers on security for the wedding.That may or may not be the case. However, the real question is can we believe him?

  • Comment number 32.

    #31 IPGABPI

    And the second real question is....why is he still a Lord?

  • Comment number 33.

    I support having a monarch because it is tradition and shows continuity with the past. On this basis we either have a monarchy with the same succession rules as in the past or we don't have a monarchy at all.

  • Comment number 34.

    There are tens of millions of British people that do not have the slightest interest in Kings and Queens,Princes, Dukes, Earls and whatever they call their partners, other than they come to no harm.
    It is time the people were asked if the pantomime should proceed.

  • Comment number 35.

    Wow the readership of this website has turned very socialist/republican.

  • Comment number 36.

    You don't have to be posh to support the idea of monarchy and I do despite myself, not because Britain would be a lot poorer without them, but because they are a bigger and better part of our national identity than all the sleezy rag bag of minority interest alternatives.
    But if they are going to survive we must all resist the urge to feed them to the media and let them make there own rules, like they always did back when they were still that ruthlessly important. Otherwise we might just as well let Simon Cowell and his X-Factor crew decide who rules.
    Then we really shall need a new Cromwell.
    But it's Charlie for me when this Good Queen Bess is ready, and I trust him to makes a good fist of it and keep as far from Reality as is regally possible.


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