Change in royal succession law to favour first-born daughters

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Commonwealth leaders are set to agree historic changes to the 300-year-old Act of Succession to enable a first-born daughter to ascend the throne ahead of her brothers, a Government Minister said yesterday.

Lord Howell, Minister for the Commonwealth, said he expected leaders of the 16 countries where the Queen reigns as monarch to agree to reform at a Commonwealth summit in Australia later this month.

“This matter will be discussed and, I believe, approved at Perth,” he told journalists at a Foreign Office briefing.

“I think (it will be) agreed that this is the right way to go forward and that processes should be set in motion – legislative and otherwise – for it to happen.”

Prime Minister David Cameron disclosed earlier this month that he had written to the leaders of the 16 countries concerned ahead of the summit in Perth to canvass their views.

Pressure for change has been building since the marriage in April of Prince William and Kate Middleton, with MPs calling for the issue to be resolved before any future royal children are born.

Previous moves to reform the 1701 Act of Succession – which also bars Roman Catholics from ascending the throne – have foundered on the need to change the law in all the countries concerned.

However, Mr Cameron told MPs it was “an issue we ought to get sorted and I would be delighted to play a role in doing that”.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee who has led calls for reform of the succession laws, welcomed the prospect of an agreement at the Commonwealth summit in Perth.

“If this does go ahead, it will be a landmark modernisation of our ancient laws to fit our modern monarchy,” he said.

“It will not be a moment too soon; for we must ensure gender equality is enshrined in the Act of Settlement before any future royal children are born,” he added.