We welcome bid to end ban on a Catholic monarch, say church leaders

THE Catholic Church last night welcomed moves by the government to draw up plans to change the Act of Settlement, which bans Roman Catholics from becoming king or queen.

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, is working on plans to alter the 307-year act, which would also allow a king or queen to marry a Catholic, a Cabinet minister said yesterday.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "The Church welcomes the news as this is of symbolic importance and has been a matter of principle for many years.

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"It has been a source of disappointment to Catholics that the government have not acted to repeal the act over the last 11 years. However, if action is promised this would be welcomed."

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, moved quickly yesterday to support UK government plans to change the act. He said that the rule, signed in 1701, was discriminatory and should be "consigned to the dustbin of history".

Revealing the plan, Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, said: "It's wrong to have a settled constitutional position that discriminates. I've spoken to Jack and he is putting an awful lot of work into it."

However, Mr Murphy said he did not envisage any change in the law before the next general election.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "The SNP first raised the issue over a decade ago, and the Scottish Parliament united in 1999 to call for this long overdue reform."

The constitutional law stipulates that only Protestant heirs of Sophia, the granddaughter of James I (James VI of Scotland), could take the British throne.

The legislation is one of the surviving vestiges of the Glorious Revolution, introduced to secure the Protestant succession that was installed by parliamentarians and led by William of Orange after the overthrow of the Catholic King James II of England and VII of Scotland in 1688.

It bars Catholics, those who marry a Catholic or those born out of wedlock from ascending to the throne.

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It also prevents the succession of eldest daughters if they have any brothers.

The UK government has been committed to ending the Act of Settlement for some time, but until recently, it was never seen as a priority, particularly as it involves an extremely complex piece of amending legislation.

But a combination of factors, including an increasingly vocal opposition to Labour policies on abortion and embryo research by the Catholic Church, helped push the Labour government into action.

Worried it was in danger of losing the traditional Catholic vote in Scotland, and following SNP threats to use the Act of Settlement issue against Labour at the next general election, ministers in London were persuaded to act as quickly as possible.

Ministers told the Queen earlier this year that changes were under "active consideration".