Act of Settlement under review

And it was thereby further enacted That all and every Person and Persons that then were or afterwards should be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or should professe the Popish Religion or marry a Papist should be excluded and are by that Act made for ever [X1 incapable] to inherit possess or enjoy the Crown and Government of this Realm and Ireland and the Dominions thereunto belonging or any part of the same or to have use or exercise any regall Power Authority or Jurisdiction within the same And in all and every such Case and Cases the People of these Realms shall be and are thereby absolved of their Allegiance And that the said Crown and Government shall from time to time descend to and be enjoyed by such Person or Persons being Protestants as should have inherited and enjoyed the same in case the said Person or Persons so reconciled holding Communion professing or marrying as aforesaid were naturally dead

– from the Act of Settlement 1701 (1700)

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is considering changes:

All recent attempts to get the 1701 act repealed have failed. In 2001, Tony Blair – now a Catholic – promised to re-examine the 300-year-old piece of legislation but did nothing about it.

Jack Straw, Westminster’s Justice Secretary, gave hope to those wanting a change in the law that the Prime Minister could grasp the constitutional nettle and repeal a law which discriminates against one section of society.

MP for Livingston Jim Devine, one of 13 Scottish Labour members who are Catholics, raised the issue during the Commons debate on the White Paper, when he asked the Secretary of State to include it in the abolition of the act, which discriminated against Roman Catholics. He said: “It is legalised sectarianism that has no role in the 21st century.”

Mr Straw replied: “Because of the position Her Majesty occupies as head of the Anglican Church, it is rather more complicated than maybe anticipated. But we are certainly ready to consider this. I fully understand that to my honourable friend and many on both sides of the House, it is seen as something which is antiquated.”

Last summer, Alex Salmond, the First Minister, after gaining power at Holyrood made a point that he would raise the issue of abolishing the Act of Settlement.

Last night, a spokesman for Mr Salmond said: “There is no doubt that this piece of discrimination has no place in modern society. While Jack Straw’s remarks are welcome in indicating that the UK Government is moving in the right direction, it will be important to see what the UK Government will propose. We will be seeking clarification as to what Mr Straw precisely meant.”

One of the main stumbling blocks to repealing all parts of the act is that it could in theory mean a Catholic could become head of the Anglican Church.

During the debate, this issue was raised by David Hamilton, Labour MP for Midlothian, who said: “Could I make an alternative point of view and that is not to encourage the Catholic Church to come in nor indeed the Church of Scotland, which is also excluded, but use this (reform) taking us into the 21st century to separate state from church and therefore take churches out of state business.”

Mr Straw insisted the Established Church played a “very important role” in the constitution.

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