The Succession to the Crown Bill – What is at stake?

The Government’s Succession to the Crown Bill received it’s second reading and completed its remaining stages in the House of Commons today.

My own knowledge of the Bill was limited to a vague understanding that it will end male primogeniture and permit the heir to marry a Roman Catholic.

So my aim here is to simply chart those articles that have been written today on this topic, which enhanced my understanding a little regarding the history, complexity, and possible ramifications of the bill.

The first I read (and this was the article that grabbed my attention on this issue) was written by Adrian Hilton in the Mail and was simultaneously informative and alarming: The Coalition rides roughshod over the Constitution.

Here’s a snippet:

This is an astonishing subversion of democracy, but wholly consistent with the oligarchical form of governance to which we are now routinely subject. As with the European Commission and 40 years of the incremental primacy of EU law over national legislation, so this Government invokes the presumed authority of the elite Commonwealth club over the sovereignty of Parliament. And to hear that No10 and the Palace have agreed this coup is even more unsettling. As Harold Macmillan stated: ‘We have not overthrown the divine right of kings to fall down for the divine right of experts.’

Next up Law and Religion UKSuccession to the Crown Bill: possible untoward effects? This concludes:

The relative complexity – emotional, political, legal, administrative – of these issues are no doubt glimpsed by government. Of course, the government does not wish to plunge into these deep waters. It wants a quick, limited fix without too much argument. Commentators are right that there has been too little public discussion, but not all the blame can be laid at the government’s door. What is needed is fresh, bound-breaking thinking and most of that can best come only from within the Church itself.

Cranmer wrote a piece with the provocative title: The Act of Settlement and constitutional terrorism:

Today, an amendment to the Act of Settlement is being rushed through the House of Commons by means usually reserved for emergency terrorism legislation. The imminent royal baby appears to represent a threat to the Coalition’s equality agenda every bit as serious as that posed by al-Qaeda to the safety and security of the free world. There will be minimal debate and negligible scrutiny; a Commons guillotine and wave at a committee.

It is, in fact, a constitutional stitch-up between Cameron and Clegg; No10 and Buckingham Palace; the Government and the Crown, with the connivance of the Heads of Commonwealth.

His Grace has written on this matter so many times that it feel like Groundhog Day (eg herehere and here).

It is not simply a matter of ending male primogeniture or permitting the Monarch to marry a Roman Catholic: the constitutional ripples will be felt for decades to come. Indeed, today’s apparently trivial ‘modernising’ amendments could lead to the disestablishment of the Church of England, the end of the Union, and even the demise of the Monarchy itself.

George Trefgarne in the Spectator:

The answer is that the Act, having been rushed through in Britain will be on the statute book, waiting for the Lord President to produce his pen to implement each clause in Britain as he sees fit.

This takes us to the essence of the criticism of the Bill. In the name of modernisation it risks introducing two entirely new concepts into the succession to the Crown: doubt, and executive discretion. At the same time, it removes another important convention: pragmatism. For if we were confronted with a brilliant elder daughter, married to a Catholic, we would probably find a way of allowing her to succeed without resorting to a doctrinare process fraught with legal difficulty.

Once you start to think of it like that, you realise that Mr Clegg may be opening yet another can of the constitutional worms he so enjoys feeding to us all, like the AV referendum.

As evidenced above, from my reading today, the rushed Bill doesn’t sound good. Having said that, the Church of England appear in favour of the bill:

This Government and the previous Government have consulted closely with senior Church of England figures throughout the long process which has led up to the introduction of this Bill.

In a speech in the House of Lords during debate on the Queen’s speech on 14thMay 2012, the then Bishop of Blackburn said: “the references in the humble Address to reform of the rules of royal succession are sensible and timely. I know I speak for all on these Benches when I say that we wish the Government well in their present consultations with the other Commonwealth realms. We look forward to and hope that it will then be possible for the necessary Bill to pass quickly through both Houses of Parliament.”

Feel free to post more links in the comments and of course let us know what you think on this issue.

UPDATE: David Lindsay comments from a Catholic perspective.

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4 Responses to “The Succession to the Crown Bill – What is at stake?”

  1. Roger Pearse Says:

    The purpose of the bill, of course, is to abolish the monarchy, and partly just vandalism for fun, just to spite ordinary people.

    Once the monarchy is something that can be tampered with on a whim, rather than something that is permanent and enduring, it loses much.

    There is no public pressure for this bit of constitution-wrecking. All it achieves, at the end of the day, is to undermine the respect of ordinary people for the state.

  2. Peter D Says:

    Like you I am not really qualified to comment…

    Tho’ I must confess to being amused by the comment:

    ‘Once the monarchy is something that can be tampered with on a whim, rather than something that is permanent and enduring, it loses much….’

    British history tells us that our constitutional monarchy is far from something which is ‘permanent and enduring’. It has undergone tweaks and changes throughout its history…

    I’ve never really understood the point of a head of state who just does as s/he is told to do – costing around £60 million a year in the process. And signs Acts of Parliament, opens hospitals and waves at people in a funny way…

    I’ve nothing against our present Queen, for whom I have tremendous respect and affection. But we’ve been lucky with her… as we were with her father and grandfather. We might not be so well served in the future – if our past is anything to go by. But to think the monarch has any real power is just make-believe.

    By the way, what do people mean by the ‘British Constitution’? Please show me a copy, I’d love to actually read it… What’s that, there isn’t a written constitution? Well I’ll go t’foot our stairs, as my Gran used to say… I never knew that… So is it possible to change that which is not actually written down?

  3. Goy Says:

    Constitutionally moving towards – the British Caliphate of New Ageism.

  4. Peter Draper Says:

    1)As a Methodist the disestablishment of the C of E seems like a wholly good thing. Quite what those bishops are doing sitting in an unelected House of Lords has always been a bit beyond me.
    2) Gosh! The Daily Mail splutters about the end of life as we know it. Well there’s a novelty.
    3) Other than as a tourist attraction and because no one can think of a deserving candidate for head of state other then the Queen, why do we need a monarchy at all?

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