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This month with Martin Horwood MP

What do the Queen, the Pope, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s unborn child, Cheltenham, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Scottish nationalism and Edward III all have in common? They all came up during the truly weird Commons debate recently on the Succession to the Crown Bill. This will remove the historic discrimination against women in the order of succession – and, in passing, the ban on heirs to the throne marrying catholics. The bill has to be passed by all the 16 Commonwealth states headed by Queen Elizabeth II. Australian PM Gillard called it “a great day for Sheilas everywhere”!

Scottish nationalist Angus MacNeill popped up to point out she was only Elizabeth I of Scotland. The Bill will mean that baby Cambridge will be first in line amongst all his or her brothers and sisters – and just in time. The Swedes left it too late and had to demote baby Prince Carl Philip in favour of older sister Victoria. Some truly ancient laws had to be amended. The Bill of Rights of 1689 bans ‘any King or Queene marrying a papist’. This was passed after the Glorious Revolution turfed out catholic James II, leaving the Dutch Prince of Orange to become William III alongside James’s protestant daughter Mary. To quote the brilliant 1066 and All That: Williamandmary, England Ruled By An Orange.

The Act of Treason 1351, meanwhile, refers to the ‘eldest son and heir’. We had to specify this now meant oldest child. 1351 takes you back to Edward III, a cool 500 years before Cheltenham had its own MP. I don’t know how our two Gloucestershire MPs, John of Weston and Nicholas Trykkelade, voted but opposing a Treason Act in 1351 would probably have been a bit risky.

How did Cheltenham come up? I pointed out that Cheltenham resident and distinguished Olympian Zara Phillips looked set to zoom nine places up the order of succession, overtaking her own brother Peter, his children, her uncles Princes Andrew and Edward and all their kids. Sadly, the bill only applies to persons born after October 2011. Spoilsports.

Martin Horwood MP, 16 Hewlett Road, Cheltenham GL52 6AA; Tel: 01242 224889;;; @MartinChelt.