Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Kate, William and male-preference primogeniture

Hurrah! At last (and hopefully finally successfully) the issue of the first born MALE child of the monarchy being first in line to the throne – regardless of any sisters that might have been born before him – looks like it will now end.

I have been banging on about this for ages including here , here, here, here and here. You can see it’s been one of my recurring themes….

Of course – now the race is on – because the change must come before it becomes an issue with actual children involved – and therefore  far more difficult and personal. So with the marriage of Kate and William – time is of the essence.

This is of huge importance in terms of equalities. There can be no more potent message to people in this country and beyond – that women are second class citizens – than the shoving of a girl child out of the way of the throne in favour of her younger brother.

And it is extra-ordinary – that with a female monarch such as Queen Elizabeth – who commandes respect from all – even republicans – that this inappropriate tradition that belongs to the past should continue.

The last time I raised this publicly – there was agreement on all sides that this should be done – but that the stumbling block was that the change has to be agreed to by all the Commonwealth countries.

Whilst that is the case – I very much hope that no Commonwealth Country would wish to stand in the way of this change and would give their full support.

If we don’t act now – this unacceptable discrimination will be here for another generation. It is an insult to women – an historical legacy and relic from a by-gone age – and this is our  moment of opportunity for change.

Sun 17 April 2011
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  1. Bill Ellson says:

    Lynne, apart from you and a few Hello readers it is hard to imagine that many people care whether the monarch is male or female. In that primogeniture has given us a queen for about 123 out of the last 174 years it is difficult to see what the problem is. If such symbolism was remotely important then 11 years of the blessed Margaret would have ushered in a golden age of equalities.

    “The last time I raised this publicly – there was agreement on all sides that this should be done – but that the stumbling block was that the change has to be agreed to by all the Commonwealth countries.”

    Oh Dear!
    1. The majority of Commonwealth countries are republics.
    2. Those countries such as Australia and Canada that still retain the queen as symbolic head of state have de facto heads of state in the shape of their Governor Generals, that they appoint themselves. There is neither a legal nor a moral basis for such countries having any say in the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements, but this old canard does seem quite effective at kicking the issue into the long grass. (The Commonwealth does not have a constitution nor anything faintly resembling one; The London Declaration of 26 April 1949 is about the closest to a governing document it has. See:

  2. Simon says:

    Currently, almost all women have no chance of ascending to the throne. But with this change, almost all women will have no chance of ascending to the throne. This change could only make a difference to the very, very tiny minority of women who haven’t even been born, yet, but might be born to possible future monarchs.

    Celebrating this move towards equality, while retaining the monarchy itself, is truly absurd. Abolishing the monarchy would not only resolve this particular matter of gender inequality, it would also resolve the huge inequality in having monarchs reigning over us at all.

  3. dave says:

    Will there be a CONSULTATION on this? If not, why not?

  4. Harriet Harms man says:

    “There can be no more potent message to people in this country and beyond – that women are second class citizens – than the shoving of a girl child out of the way of the throne in favour of her younger brother.”

    What utter drivel. Is the monarch there on merit? The whole essence of the the royal family is that it’s about the past and unfairness. Surely everyone (royalty aside) is a second class citizen when you have a monarchy? If not then how do I apply for the position please? I rather fancy that job and I don’t even mind having my name appear on the application form.

    How about dealing with some real equality issues for a change that affect real people such as the taxpayer funding NHS genital mutilation of children for religious purposes (despite supposedly being short of cash for life saving drugs etc).

  5. dave says:

    Good point HHM.

  6. Tim Jones says:

    This would set a good example of non-discrimination and equality. It should be welcomed.

  7. Adam says:

    Yes of course it is Tim. A bunch of seriously dim white people inheriting wealth and position purely by virtue of birth and a whole population that is supposed to be their “subjects”. Under current circumstances there isn’t a single one of them that could actually get a proper job. Why it’s the very definition of non-discrimination and equality.

  8. kemlyn says:

    +1 to the posts that have pointed out how ludicrous it is to bleat about “potent messages” of primogeniture from the Royal Family. It’s a bit like asking the Ku Klux Klan to beef up their equal opportunities policy.

  9. Stroud Green voter says:

    As her government – from which she just doesn’t have the courage to resign from – consults on the repeal of the Equalities Act, the equalities minister seems to argue that the most important issue facing the country is whether or not the first born of the country’s hereditary monarchy should automatic succeed to be our ruler for no other reason than who her parents are.

    You don’t get in Lynne, do you?

    Incidentally, you are plain wrong. We don’t have to wait for any Commonwealth realm to agree to anything (and it’s not every country in the Commonwealth either – are you really so ignorant?). We are all independent states and we can change our laws as we see fit. If Jamaica wants to have its own rules for the monarchy that’s their business. What you mean to say is that your government chooses to do nothing unless the other 15 realms agree. And as you are collectively responsible that means *you* choose to do nothing.

    So not only do you get your priorities all wrong, you don’t even understand the basics of the issue you seem to think is important.

  10. Well – that is the view of the Solicitor General and both this government and the last one seem to think that is the case. If they are wrong Stroud Green voter – then give me the details – chapter and verse – of which Act or law where I can find that documented and I will happily take forward – if you are right.

    And if you, like me, support the Equality Act, then I trust you will get on the website and post your views as to the importance of retaining it – in full!

  11. Harriet Harms Man says:

    Lets just get rid of the sexist/racist parts of the equality act please and keep the parts that make sense and don’t cause harm.

  12. Simon says:

    For Stroud Green voter’s convenience, here is a relevant Wikipedia article on the Statute of Westminster 1931:-

    There is a section specifically about this issue:-

  13. Bill Ellson says:

    Lynne, the once respected offices of Attorney General and Solicitor General have become a little bit tarnished in recent years. Does advice about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction ring any bells?

    Stroud Green Voter and I are both pointing out that there is no such law, you claim that there is, so logically it is up to you to prove its existence.

    As the wikipedia article Simon links to makes clear the preamble to the Statute of Westminster merely sets out a common understanding, that the United Kingdom is free to withdraw from at any time. Ireland, Pakistan, South Africa and many others already have.

  14. Bill et al – I am pursuing this line anyway – as regardless of law or not – it shouldn’t take as long as everyone seems to think to get sorted. L

  15. Helen says:

    We know what a quick worker you are Lynne – LibDem to Tory in about a week. And only three years to get a bus stop moved.

    But seriously, if you care about equality choose an issue which actually affects your constituents and fight for them. The comments on this thread all point to the people of Hornsey and Wood Green (remember them?) not caring in the slightest about the succession plans of unelected people of either sex.

  16. Harriet Harms Man says:

    Lynne it’s nice to have you back responding to comments (even if we don’t agree as to what should be a priority)

  17. Stroud Green voter says:

    Lynne, parliament is sovereign. It may legislate as it pleases. I cannot show you an act because you haven’t passed one yet.
    The preamble to the Statute of Westminster stipulates that all Commonwealth realms should agree any change in succession. But it is merely an act of parliament and so therefore may be repealed or amended by parliament. To suggest otherwise is to say that we have a written constitution which is above parliament.

  18. Simon says:

    Stroud Green voter, I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

    How would Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc, respond to an attempt by the UK to unilaterally repeal the Statute of Westminster (along with subsequent, relevant Acts)?

    I’m not an expert nor a lawyer, but I think it’s pretty obvious that the Statute of Westminster can’t be “merely an act of parliament” in the usual way. At the very least, it’s an Act of constitutional significance.

    Quoting from the Wikipedia article, it “established legislative equality for the self-governing dominions of the British Empire and the United Kingdom”. Can the UK parliament unilaterally repeal the Statute of Westminster, etc, so that the self-governing dominions no longer have legislative equality?

    If so, then do those self-governing dominions really have legislative equality after all? Can it really be called equality, or independence, when the UK can unilaterally take it away?

    If not, doesn’t that mean that the Statute of Westminster, etc, break the convention that no parliament may bind future parliaments by passing legislation that cannot subsequently be repealed?

    You could try to argue that there’s nothing to stop the UK parliament from repealing the Statute of Westminster and other such Acts, but that such repeals would only have effect in the UK. I would ask whether or not that would be repeal in form, but not in substance. After all, such repeals wouldn’t take the legislative equality and independence of the self-governing dominions away – the UK parliament remains bound in practice – so clearly such an Act can’t be treated as “merely an act of parliament” in the usual way.

    I would suggest that the spirit of the convention that no parliament may bind future parliaments is maintained by the fact that the UK parliament, along with the parliaments of the self-governing dominions, can all legislate, in a coordinated effort, to repeal the Statute of Westminster and other relevant Acts. (Perhaps this might be a bit like the Acts of Union that united England and Scotland?)

    In effect, the sovereignty of the crown in the UK parliament prior to such Acts would now be distributed among the various parliaments of the UK and the self-governing dominions. It’s with that same, distributed sovereignty that these parliaments can all legislate to repeal the relevant Acts and reunify their sovereignty back in the UK parliament.

    As I say, I’m neither a lawyer nor an expert, so I might have got this all horribly wrong, but I think this is a pretty neat way of looking at it that nicely resolves the issues raised.

    If this interpretation is correct, then the conventional view that changing the rules of succession needs the agreement of a whole bunch of parliaments would fit very nicely: one crown sovereign in many, independent and equal parliaments.

  19. Stroud Green voter says:

    How would Canada respond?

    What do you think they are going to do? Invade? And yes, the repeal would only have effect in the UK. So what? Yes, it might mean that the Commonwealth realms would in the future have different sovereigns, but what business is that of ours?

    Can the UK parliament unilaterally repeal the Statute of Westminster, etc, so that the self-governing dominions no longer have legislative equality?

    ha ha ha. We can pass any laws we like about anywhere in the world but they would have no effect.

    And, yes, you are wrong about devolution. It’s not a diminution of sovereignty but its devolution. The UK parliament can overrule any of the devolved legislatures,

  20. Joe Otten says:

    Lynne, can we have a running total:
    -How many commonwealth members are in agreement with us?
    -How many are against?
    -How many are dithering?
    -How many are happy in principle, but have no interest in committing legislative time to a change?

    Category 2 should be named and shamed. 3 and 4 should be left behind for as long as they want to be.

  21. R Collins says:

    “If we don’t act now – this unacceptable discrimination will be here for another generation. It is an insult to women – an historical legacy and relic from a by-gone age – and this is our moment of opportunity for change.”

    Wow Lynne! For the above comment, you could say the same about children born illegitimately who are unable to acquire British citizenship through their British fathers. Most of those suffering are female. However, you seem to tow the party line with regard to the opinion that nationality discrimination is somehow fair and just and that illegitimate children are second class citizens. Yet, some antiquated tradition which affects only one family is cause for such cries and protest.

    Seriously Lynne, you are such a hypocrite.

  22. R Collins says:

    Oh and Lynne, don’t even bother to try and explain that there is currently no law in place to remove discrimination against children born illegitimately before 2006 to British fathers. As you can see, there is no law in place to remove primogeniture, but that’s certainly not stopping you from getting hot and bothered enough to challenge this unfair law. If you can magically come up with a reason and a bill to challenge this law, you can most certainly challenge the other. That’s the reason you’re such a hypocrite.

  23. KarinJR says:

    Actually, I rather like the notion of getting Commonwealth nations to agree to this change. Some of them could use a teaching moment about female equality, and this can be a relatively non-threatening way of starting that discussion in a way that isn’t about Britain lecturing them about their own policies, but humbly asking for help in improving ours.

    Inheritance rights for women are still limited in many Commonwealth countries, including the largest – India. So a relevant, timely, and important point for the UK to make even if (in my opinion) fairly unimportant in itself.

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