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Succession fears allayed by Clegg

11 January 2013

THE Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said on Tuesday that allowing future heirs to the throne to marry Roman Catholics would "not in any way" jeopardise the monarch's position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

The Succession to the Crown Bill, which had its first reading in the House of Commons last month, would remove the bar on a person who marries a Roman Catholic "becoming or remaining a monarch", and end "gender discrimination"; so that brothers were not automatically before sisters in line to the throne.

During questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, the Conservative MP Andrew Turner asked Mr Clegg for assurance that the Bill "will give the public confidence that the relationship between Church and state will be unaltered, even if a future monarch should marry a Roman Catholic and the ensuing child is a Catholic".

In reply, Mr Clegg said that he could give "complete reassurance that the provisions in the Bill will not in any way alter the status of the Established Church in this country and the monarch as head of that Church."

Mr Clegg said that the Act of Settlement, which bars an heir to the throne from marrying a Roman Catholic, was "a very specific act of discrimination against one faith only. The heir to the throne may marry someone of any religion outside the Church of England - Muslim, Hindu, and so on - but uniquely not a Catholic."

A Lambeth Palace spokesman confirmed press reports this week that officials had been in talks with government ministers, but would not give further details.

The Daily Mail this week reported that the Prince of Wales had raised concerns about removing the bar. The report cited unnamed sources; spokespeople for the Cabinet Office and the Prince of Wales refused to comment, the paper said.

Lord Carey was quoted as saying: "The Government's instincts to allow female heirs to succeed are wholly right, but to avoid any unintended consequences of the proposals for the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church there must be much greater consultation and discussion."

After the Prime Minister announced, in 2011, that future heirs to the throne would be allowed to marry Roman Catholics, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that there needed to be a "clear understanding" that a future heir should be brought up "in an Anglican environment" ( News, 4 November 2011).

Dr Williams said: "My immediate reaction is that the possibility for the monarch to marry a [Roman] Catholic is not something I lose any sleep over, but the constitutional question . . . is the upbringing of any heir to the throne in an Anglican environment, given that the heir to the throne will be the Supreme Governor, under law, of the Church of England. . .

"I think if we're quite clear that, so long as the monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, there needs to be a clear understanding that the heir is brought up in that environment, all well and good."

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