Prince William’s first child will follow him on to the throne whether it is a girl or a boy, after agreement was reached Friday on historic constitutional changes to end gender discrimination in the rules of succession, it was confirmed tonight.
The 16 Commonwealth nations of which the Queen is monarch agreed unanimously to end the rule of primogeniture, under which a younger son takes precedence over older sisters in the order of succession, the UK media said.
The 16 “realms”, including the UK, Australia and Canada, also agreed to scrap centuries-old laws which ban the spouse of a Roman Catholic from ascending to the throne.
Announcing the changes at a Commonwealth summit in Australia, Prime Minister David Cameron said the “outdated” rules were “at odds with the modern countries that we have become”.
Explaining how the rules on succession will change, he said: “Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen.”
Reform of the succession rules, which date back to the 17th century, has long been seen as overdue in an age of greater equality between genders and faiths, commentators said.
But pressure for change became more urgent following the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in April, which raised the prospect of new additions to the line of succession in the near future, they added.
Putting future princesses on an equal footing with their brothers will require amendments to a raft of historic legislation, including the 1701 Act of Settlement and 1689 Bill of Rights, as well as laws in a number of the Queen’s other realms (countries).
Any legislative changes will apply to the heirs of the Prince of Wales, so the children of William and Catherine will be affected whether or not they are born before the process of amending laws is completed.
However, Princess Anne will not leapfrog her younger brothers to become fourth in line to the throne.
Cameron made clear that although heirs to the throne will in future be allowed to marry Roman Catholics, the ban on a Catholic becoming sovereign will remain.
“The monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that church,” he was quoted here as saying.
“But it is simply wrong that they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so.” Cameron added: “The great strength of our constitutional approach is its ability to evolve.
“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some of the out-dated rules – like some of the rules of succession – just don’t make sense to us any more.
“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic – this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become.”