A West MP’s bid to remove religious belief as a bar from becoming monarch failed to find support in Parliament.
The Succession of the Crown Bill was rushed through the House of Commons so that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child – due in July – would become monarch, irrespective of gender.
It means that if their first child is a girl, she can become monarch even if she later has younger brothers.
This modernisation was widely supported, but earlier attempts by Tory North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to go further and remove religion as a bar from becoming monarch did not succeed.
While an heir to the throne will now be able to marry a Catholic, the new laws will still exclude Catholics from succeeding the throne.
Mr Rees-Mogg described the current rules as a “grating unfairness”, adding that he thought the Church of England could still be protected as the established church in the UK.
He said: “From time immemorial the succession has gone to the eldest male heir, but since the Act of Settlement it has clearly had to go also to a Protestant, there has been a religious discrimination as well a discrimination on the grounds of sex.”
While pointing out that Monday night, when the issue was debated, was the anniversary of the death of King Henry VIII, he went on: “One of the glories of this modern age is that we are tolerant, that we are tolerant of different religions, that we believe that people practising other faiths is actually something to be welcomed and encouraged, has made us a stronger nation rather than a weaker nation, and that therefore there should no longer be a bar on the grounds of faith against the sovereign as long as you can make provision for the Established Church of England which there is and which I support. I think that circle can be squared by providing for a Regency.”
But Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith said there was no public support to allow Catholics to succeed to the throne. Introducing such a fundamental change would also undermine the Church of England at a time when “instability was not welcome”, she said.
Moving the Bill’s third reading, deputy Commons leader Tom Brake said it was a “remarkable achievement” the Government had managed to bring the changes in across the Commonwealth so quickly.
He said: “The effect of the proposed change is if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a daughter and then a son, the daughter would precede the son in the line of succession.
“I’m proud this Bill will remove two long-standing pieces of discrimination and modernise and affirm the place of our constitutional monarchy.”
The legislation still has to clear the House of Lords.