Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Liberal Democrat) began the debate, saying: ‘This is a bill with a clear purpose; to bring gender equality to the rules of succession and to remove explicit pieces of religious discrimination from our statute book.’
He continued: ‘The bill does three things. First, it ends the system of male preference primogeniture in the line of succession. Secondly, it removes the bar on a person who marries a Roman Catholic from succeeding to the Throne - a legal barrier that applies to Catholics and only Catholics and no other faith. Thirdly, it replaces the Royal Marriages Act 1772 - an Act that requires any descendent of King George II to seek the reigning monarch's consent before marrying, without which their marriage is void... With King George II's descendants now numbering in their hundreds, this law is clearly unworkable and so it is replaced with a provision that the monarch need only consent to the marriages of the first six individuals in the line of succession, without which they would lose their place.’
Lord Dubs (Labour) expressed his support for the Bill, saying: ‘The clear point, which has been stated by many members of this House, is that as a country we are totally opposed to discrimination on grounds of gender or religion. It is wrong that there should be discrimination at the highest level in our country... I would like there to be a position in which the monarch herself or himself could in future be a Catholic, or of no faith, if he or she wished. That would be a better outcome than the present one.’
Lord Lexden (Conservative), then spoke about the impact of the bill across the Commonwealth: ‘The coalition ministry is to be congratulated on securing for them the full support of the 15 other Commonwealth countries of which Her Majesty the Queen is head of state. However, little has been heard of the progress that the 15 are making in implementing these fundamental changes... The government's most laudable aim is that the new era in the world's greatest monarchy, which is now foreshadowed, should begin simultaneously in all 16 realms. It would be useful to hear from my noble and learned friend today when the point of common action envisaged by the government is likely to be reached.’
Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Liberal Democrat) responded on behalf of the government, and concluded by saying: ‘...we look forward to the birth later this year of the child of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge... The change that we are putting forward will mean that if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a daughter, then a son, the daughter will precede the son in the line of succession. As we look forward to the birth, we can also celebrate that whether a boy or a girl, the child will have equal claim to the Throne. I think it is the mood of the House to wish the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge every happiness as they face up to the challenge of parenthood.’
Committee stage, line by line examination of the bill, begins on 28 February.
Succession to the Crown Bill summary
The bill makes three key changes to laws governing who can be next in line to the throne by:
- removing the first born son preference and allowing an older daughter over a younger brother to become a monarch
- allowing anyone who marries a Roman Catholic to remain in line
- limiting the requirement that all descendants of George II must obtain the monarch’s permission to marry to the six people nearest in line to the crown. If the monarch's approval is not given then the married couple and their descendants lose their place in the line of succession.
What is second reading?
Second reading is the first opportunity for members of the Lords to debate the main principles and purpose of the bill and to flag up concerns and areas where they think changes (amendments) are needed.
Before second reading debate takes place, a list of speakers for the debate is opened and interested members add their names to it.
The government minister, spokesperson or a member of the Lords responsible for the bill opens the debate.
Any member can speak in the debate so this stage can indicate those members particularly interested in the bill - or a particular aspect of it - and those who are most likely to be involved in amending the bill at later stages.
Second reading debates usually last for a few hours but sometimes stretch over a couple of days.
Image: PA/Mike Moore