By Christopher Howse
AN ATTEMPT to change the law to allow the Prince of Wales to marry a
Catholic was foiled this week when the sponsor of a Bill in the House of Commons withdrew it after Pressure from the Govern ment and the Opposition to which he belongs.
Mr Norman Hogg, Labour M P for Dumbartonshire withdrew his private member's Bill in favour of the no-confidence debate on the Government's unemployment record. But it seemed clear that the tenminute rule Bill would have failed in any case.
Although the vote would have been free in theory, the Prime Minister herself leaned on all members with paid jobs in the Government to oppose the Bill. The Government even managed to find a Catholic spokesman to shoot down the Bill.
Mr John Biggs-Davidson, Conservative MP for Epping Forest and an outspoken supporter of traditional Catholicism was dowa to reply to Mr Hogg, He would have had to defend the Act of Settlement of I 701 which declares that the heir to the throne may not succeed if he marries a catholic.
Mr Biggs-Davison told the Herald "Neither Catholics as a whole or the nation as a whole would gain from reviving old theological and denominational passions."
He said: "Mr Norman Hogg's motion arose from rumours about the Prince of Wales's marriage intentions, Those who wish him and all the Royal family well might refrain from the national pastime of gossip and trust the heir to the throne to order his life in accordancdc with his duty and conscience." According to one of the Bill's sponsors, the Queen had assented to Mr Hogg's action,
Mr Biggs-Davison continued: "Mr Hogg was right to withdraw . his motion, as The limes leaderwriter said *The Roman Catholic community did not want the matter raised.— Cardinal Gray, head of the Scottish hierarchy responded to news of the with. drawal: "It would be a pity if too. much time were to elapse before Parliament has an opportunity of hearing the matter."
On the question of ecumenism, Mr BiggsDavison said: "I came to the Church from an Anglican up-bringing; but people of many opinions can see the value to an increasingly plural society of an Establishment that gives it a stable Christian base."
But Lord Boyd-Carpenter said on the day fixed for the debate: "It has been publicly brought out that any heir to the throne can with impunity marry a Muslim, a Hindu, a devil-worshipper, a Mormon, or indeed an atheist."
It was on the constitution that Mr Biggs-Davison most heavily relied in his opposition of the Bill. "Changes in so fundamental a constitutional law demand prior consultation with the Catholic hierarchy, the Church of England and indeed the Presbyterian Church of Scotland — they are established; consultation too with Her Majesty's governments overseas.
Constitutional convention requires the assent of the parliaments of the Commonwealth within the Queen's dominions. To proceed without consultation with them would be an affront to them and a contempt of the Cornmonwealth.Times have changed. A Catholic may be Lord Chancellor. The Act of Settlement is not forever; but if Mr Hogg had not withdrawn his motion he would have set back his cause."
The Government has already denied Plans to introduce legislation of its own on the subject. But one of the dropped Bill's sponsors, Mr John Home Robertson, has published his intention to revive the issue as a private member's Bill in the Autumn.