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 UK: Succession 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.
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.