Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fresh calls for anti-Catholic Act to be axed

Michael Moore has been accused of a “dereliction of duty” for not continuing his predecessors’ bid to change the Act of Settlement, which discriminates against Catholics and women, as renewed calls by the Catholic Church in Scotland are made to scrap the antiquated legislation. 

Last year, Gordon Brown as Prime Minister began talks to reform the Act with Bucking-ham Palace and leaders of 15 Commonwealth countries, whose approval would be needed to bring about any change.

Previously, Jim Murphy as Scottish Secretary and John Reid, the former Home Secretary, had pushed for change, with the former branding the Act “unfair and discriminatory” and the latter “offensive” and “divisive”. 

The legislation bans a member of the Royal Family from marrying a Catholic and also maintains discrimination against women in the line of succession. 

In 2008, Autumn Kelly relinquished her Catholic faith and converted to the Church of England to ensure her husband, Peter Phillips, son of the Princess Royal, did not lose his place in the line of succession. 

During the last parliament, Evan Harris, the former Liberal Democrat MP, sought, unsuccessfully, to end the inbuilt discrimination of the Act of Settlement. 

Labour’s Keith Vaz, the Leicester MP, is launching a fresh attempt to scrap the 309-year-old Act with his Succession to the Crown Bill, which will be debated in January. 

He has also tabled a parliamentary motion that “recalls the all-party agreement in the last Parliament to amend the law and calls on the Government to legislate to end these outdated, sexist and anti-Catholic aspects of the constitution”. 

Last night, Tom Greatrex, the Shadow Scotland Office Minister, took Scottish Secretary Michael Moore to task for failing to follow up his predecessors’ campaign to end “blatant discrimination against Catholics”. 

The Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West told The Herald: “Michael Moore’s two immediate predecessors were both active in getting the Government to address this issue. 

While it is largely symbolic, it does go to the heart of the kind of society we are. 

“Michael Moore appears to have done absolutely nothing to keep this on the agenda and, given the role that he has, it is a dereliction of duty.” 

Meantime, the Catholic Church in Scotland intervened, branding the Act of Settlement “iniquitous and incongruous”. 

A spokesman for Cardinal Keith O’Brien said: “Neither the present Government nor its predecessors showed any sign of repealing it. Frankly, we still think the Act, apart from being unjust, is ultimately a serious barrier to tackling problems like sectarianism and anti-Catholic bigotry in Scotland. It’s difficult for a government at any level, Westminster or Holyrood, to assert that sectarianism is wrong when the Act perpetuates it.” 

In response, the Scotland Office made clear abolition of the Act could happen but gave no indication that moves were actively afoot to bring it about. 

A spokesman said: “The Government recognises that this is an important issue and have not ruled out a change to the Act of Settlement but, if we are to undertake change, we need to do it in a careful and thoughtful way.” 

He added: “It is correct for Mr Greatrex to highlight the fact that, while previous Scottish Secretaries did regularly talk about the changing the Act of Settlement, they didn’t actually do anything about it.”