Girls equal in British throne succession

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge If Prince William and Kate had a daughter first, she would take precedence over younger brothers

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Sons and daughters of any future UK monarch will have equal right to the throne, after Commonwealth leaders agreed to change succession laws.

The leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state unanimously approved the changes at a summit in Perth, Australia.

It means a first-born daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would take precedence over younger brothers.

The ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic was also lifted.

Under the old succession laws, dating back more than 300 years, the heir to the throne is the first-born son of the monarch. Only when there are no sons, as in the case of the Queen's father George VI, does the crown pass to the eldest daughter.

The succession changes will require a raft of historic legislation to be amended, including the 1701 Act of Settlement, the 1689 Bill of Rights and the Royal Marriages Act 1772.

The change to the Royal Marriages Act will end a position where every descendant of George II is legally required to seek the consent of the monarch before marrying.

In future, the requirement is expected to be limited to a small number of the sovereign's close relatives.


Equal rights for women in the British Monarchy? It's quite a change. The new rules will reverse 300 years of tradition, custom and law, so it's a big royal deal.

There have been at least 11 attempts to change the passage of succession down the years, but they've never got anywhere. Now, with the arrival of Kate and William on the public stage, a sense of urgency has overtaken the drag of inertia.

The leaders of the Commonwealth have, like David Cameron, recognised this and so decided to act, using Perth to give birth to these royal reforms.

The other modification, allowing future monarchs to marry Catholics, is just as radical, removing an anti-Catholic bias at the heart of the monarchy.

Will these changes make a difference? Potentially, yes, particularly the daughter/son succession one, especially if William and Kate's first-born is a girl. She could become queen and thereby alter the course of British history.

Announcing the succession changes, Prime Minister David Cameron said they would apply to descendents of the Prince of Wales. They will not be applied retrospectively.

"Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen," he said.

"The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic - this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become."

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was an extraordinary moment: "I'm very enthusiastic about it. You would expect the first Australian woman prime minister to be very enthusiastic about a change which equals equality for women in a new area."

She said the changes appeared to be straightforward. "But just because they seem straightforward to our modern minds doesn't mean that we should underestimate their historical significance, changing as they will for all time the way in which the monarchy works and changing its history."

But the campaign group Republic - which wants an elected head of state in Britain - said "nothing of substance" had been changed.

"The monarchy discriminates against every man, woman and child who isn't born into the Windsor family. To suggest that this has anything to do with equality is utterly absurd," spokesman Graham Smith said.

Queen's speech

On scrapping the ban on future monarchs marrying Roman Catholics, Mr Cameron said: "Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that Church. But it is simply wrong they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith."

David Cameron: ''The idea a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he's a man... is at odds with the modern countries we have become''

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said the elimination of the "unjust discrimination" against Catholics would be widely welcomed.

"At the same time I fully recognise the importance of the position of the established church [the Church of England] in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today," he said.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond also welcomed the lifting of the ban but said it was "deeply disappointing" that Roman Catholics were still unable to ascend to the throne.

"It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion in terms of the monarchy," he said.

"It is a missed opportunity not to ensure equality of all faiths when it comes to the issue of who can be head of state."

In her opening speech to the summit, the Queen did not directly mention the royal succession laws, but said women should have a greater role in society.

"It encourages us to find ways to show girls and women to play their full part," she said.

Previous attempts

The BBC's royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, said this was a hint that the Queen herself backed the change.

The Queen will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee next year and there are already two generations of kings-in-waiting - Prince Charles and his son Prince William.

In January 2011, Labour MP Keith Vaz tabled a Succession to the Crown Bill in the Commons to end gender discrimination in the succession to the throne.

He said his bill - due for its second reading on 25 November - could be used to introduce the reforms announced in Perth.

"As a society that values gender equality so highly, this is a long overdue," he said. "We will now have modern laws that fit our modern monarchy."

The royal author Robert Hardman said there had been 11 attempts in recent years by individual MPs and peers to change the succession laws.

The laws are not a matter for the 54-nation Commonwealth as a whole, only for the 16 countries which have the Queen as their head of state, known as realms.

These are Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia and the Bahamas.

Chogm summit

Mr Cameron said the realms would work to implement the changes but that for historic reasons the UK would have to publish its legislation first.

The necessary changes to laws will be introduced in the next session of Parliament and New Zealand will lead a working group co-ordinating the measures across the other nations.

In his speech, the prime minister also praised the Queen's 60 years of public service and announced the creation of a Diamond Jubilee Trust to help those in need across the Commonwealth. The trust will be chaired by former Prime Minister Sir John Major.

Mr Cameron said Britain would make a multi-million pound donation to the grant-making body and encouraged other commonwealth nations to do the same.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (Chogm) are held every two years, and present an opportunity for the 54 nations with current or former ties to Britain to discuss a range of issues.

The Chogm summit will also discuss economic growth, climate change and human rights at this year's meeting.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    If this rule had applied when Victoria became queen, then Kaiser Wilhelm II would have succeeded her and the history of the twentieth century might have been very different.

    However, Victoria's first born (Victoria who married the future Kaiser's father) would most likely have married some lesser royal rather than opening up another union of crowns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Has David Cameron not got more pressing issues on at the moment than to comment on this change in rules that effects...oh one.

    No to unelected head of states.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    If all these republicans were truly concerned with freedom and equality, they'd ask why going to Oxbridge is essentially prerequisite for a career in politics. Look to those with the real power and those whose decisions GENUINELY impact on our lives I.E. the bankers and the politicians. The monarchy has no power AT ALL, it is just tradition and ceremony, a 'living' example of our cultural heritage

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Wow ! Thank God for that. I can sleep easy now knowing that men and women will have equal rights to an undemocratic, unelected, unaccountable position of unbridled luxury funded by the tax-payer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Hundreds of years of tradition wiped out at a stroke.... might as well abolish the monarchy now.... and no, i am not against equality, in an ordinary job situation a women deserves equal rights, however this isnt an ordinary job is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    145. gcpfc
    The jubilee is a celebration of inherited power and privilege and those celebrations have no place in a modern democracy.
    Thats O.K then. We don't live in a modern democracy. Do you think Cameron, Osbourne, Johnstone (or Blair or Clegg.. I'm not biased) would have got high office if they'd been born in a council estate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    A good news story ... long overdue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    16. Stephen Cunnah

    . . . . a darn sight cheaper tho'

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Being rich enough to easily support yourself very much in the same luxury as you are accustomed to, meanwhile still receiving money from the taxpayer in these times of economic hardship & cuts is absolutely disgusting - more so than the worst benefit cheats. Do the right thing Elizabeth, finance yourself. You can stay, as monarchy is irrelevant anyway, just stop taking our money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Talk about missing the point...let's have a republic!

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.
    The 2012 jubilee is an historic opportunity for the republican movement. As the palace gears up to use the occasion to bolster support for the monarchy we will be staging a campaign to challenge the institution and the jubilee celebrations.

    The jubilee is a celebration of inherited power and privilege and those celebrations have no place in a modern democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    16. Stephen Cunnah
    "Shame for the 60 million odd other Brits who have absolutely zero chance of ever being their country's Head of State."

    Who on earth would want the job for 5 years, let alone for life!

    Luxury yes - but no privacy, every move watched, no decision making, no option to voice an opinion, totally bound by protocol and constantly surrounded by security and sycophants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    I think that it is a good idea to let the first born be the future monarch whatever the gender. The Anti catholic stance is now obsolete. It was in place when Popes supported enemies of this realm and encouraged them to invade and overthrow the protestant monarchy. The Scots were in Alliance with France, Spain and the Pope. French armies were in scotland and Ireland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    90.That Fellow Edwards - Capello is Mike Basset
    14 Minutes ago
    @ Recuerdo

    Queen Anne? She only reigned for 5 years and died without any children!
    I think perhaps you mean Mary I? Anne ruled from 1702 to 1714 and had many children, however none lived to adulthood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    re: #113. nieuw divil
    >>>If only we could abolish the marxist louts desecrating St Pauls.
    But back to the point of the argument, we should leave our monarchy as it is. The queen has done a wonderful job but a male heir carries more gravitas.

    Shouldn't you be off back under your bridge waiting for some Billy Goat's Gruff or something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Undoubtedly the worst have been men: Henry VIII, James II and George IV"

    Henry VIII can be argued to be one of the best, as well as worst. However, it is wise to divide monarchs before 1688 and those after. Of those before, Edward I was certainly regarded as "great" (though not in Wales or Scotland) and Henry II, Henry V, Edward IV, Charles II have important legacies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    I don't think William and Kate will have a girl first born, as the male line seems to be strong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    113 nieuw divil: 'If only we could abolish the marxist louts desecrating St Pauls.

    But back to the point of the argument, we should leave our monarchy as it is. The queen has done a wonderful job but a male heir carries more gravitas.

    Sorry but it's the truth.'

    Oh come one, Elizabeth II, Elizabeth I and Victoria I.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Don't make me laugh too much. These changes change nothing of any real substance. Our monarchy is founded on elitism and discriminates against every man, woman and child who isn't born into the Windsor family. What's equality got to do with it? True equality is far more than this sop. Abolish the monarchy and the Windsors might even find the ability to get a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    What if the child is a hermaphrodite, seems unfair to me..


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