Succession to the Crown Bill passed

At a little after 4-00 p.m. on 22nd April, the Succession to the Crown Bill successfully passed its third reading in the House of Lords and is now awaiting Royal Assent.  Although in this short ~45 minute session the two proposed amendments were discussed and withdrawn, the debate provided some clarification to the issue of the religious upbringing of the children of a Monarch whose spouse was a Roman Catholic.  It also highlighted two opposing views: the desire of some of their Lordships “to put beyond doubt the requirement that the sovereign be a Protestant and in communion with the Church of England”, [Lord Wallace of Tankerness, col. 1220]; and the views of those who consider that Act of Succession as a “piece of rampant discrimination” towards “Her Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects, all of whom pray for Her Majesty every Sunday and every Mass,” [Lord Deben, col. 1218].

Both amendments concerned Clause 2 of the Bill – Removal of disqualification arising from marriage to a Roman Catholic – and the first of these, moved by Lord Cormack addressed the issue of the religious upbringing of children of “mixed marriages”.  The purpose sought by the amendment was to “make explicit what is already implicit” and translate into legislative form many of the sentiments voiced by the Minister in a previous debate.

During this earlier debate, (on 13 March 2013) , the Lord Bishop of Guildford, who admitted that he had “some modest understanding of both Anglican and Roman Catholic canon law”, had noted that whereas in the 1917 Code of Canon “the position was rigid and, I would say, harsh”, this was not so in the current 1983 Code, (Canons 1124 and 1125), which speaks of “permission”, not “dispensation”. Furthermore, the old code also required the non-Catholic party in a marriage to promise that the children would be brought up as Roman Catholics, but no such promise is required today.

Supporting the position that permissions for mixed marriages have been given even where it was foreseen that the promise could not be fulfilled in whole or in part, the Lord Bishop quoted J P Beal, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press, New York 2000) pages 1345 to 1347, which states inter alia, that

“[p]ermission for mixed marriages can be given even when it is forseen that the Catholic’s efforts to pass on the Catholic faith will probably be fruitless because of the resistance of the non-Catholic spouse.  In these circumstances, the Catholic party can fulfill his or her obligations, at least in part,

“playing an active part in contributing to the Christian atmosphere of the home; doing all that is possible by word and example to enable the other members of the family to appreciate the specific values of the Catholic tradition; taking whatever steps are necessary to be informed about his own faith so as to be able to explain and discuss it with them, praying with the family for the grace of Christian unity as the Lord wills it”.

This was further supported in the debate on 22nd April, in which the Lord Bishop indicated that his exposition of Roman Catholic official teaching in canon law, and the pastoral and flexible practice in terms of the Roman Catholic rules over the upbringing of children in mixed marriages is completely has been confirmed in the letter from Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, on behalf of the Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness, (Advocate-General for Scotland), reported that he had met Monsignor Stock on behalf of Archbishop Nichols and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to discuss this matter, and could inform the House that

“the view taken by the Catholic Church in England and Wales is that in the instance of mixed marriages the approach of the Catholic Church is pastoral. It will always look to provide guidance that supports and strengthens the unity and indissolubility of the marriage. In this context the Catholic Church expects Catholic spouses to sincerely undertake to do all that they can to raise children in the Catholic Church. Where it has not been possible for the child of a mixed marriage to be brought up as a Catholic, the Catholic parent does not fall subject to the censure of canon law.”

In view of these assurances, Amendment 1 was withdrawn, and it was hoped that “something can go into the Library of the House” to provide a gloss to the discussions, as requested Lord Trefgarne.

The position of the Roman Catholic Bishops has attracted some lively, but not always informed, comment in The Catholic Herald, Rorate Caeli, and elsewhere, mainly based on third-hand media reports.

Amendment 2, was moved by Lord James of Blackheath, who had concerns that passing the Bill in its present form would represent a denial by this House of the words and intentions of the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement and place Her Majesty in a position where we would be in breach the Coronation Oath.

This supposition was not supported by Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who noted that dicta of Lord President Cooper in MacCormick v Lord Advocate 1953 SC 396 had raised some question concerning Scotland, although in the consideration of the 1911 Parliament Act in Jackson v Attorney-General  [2005] UKHL 56,  the late Lord Bingham said:

“The bedrock of the British constitution is, and in 1911 was, the supremacy of the Crown in Parliament … Then, as now, the Crown in Parliament was unconstrained by any entrenched or codified constitution. It could make or unmake any law it wished”.

Given that the prohibition on the sovereign being a Catholic remains, the government do not believe that there is any conflict between the Bill and the Accession Declaration or the promise made by the sovereign to preserve the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.

At the end of the debate, Lord James withdrew his amendment.  However, prior to its conclusion, Lord Trefgarne commented on the speed at which the Bill was driven through, and expressed that many would have preferred a Joint Select Committee to consider some of the important constitutional implications that it raises, and indeed changes. However, that has not been the case, and therefore that, for now at least, must be that, [col. 1229].

He also observed

“[t]his Bill has also set running the hare of what happens to the hereditary peerage with regard to the succession arrangements for hereditary peers.  . . . . . those arrangements are . . . . . a great deal more complicated even than they are for the Crown.  . . . . . .  if Bills come forward for that purpose they will delay the noble and learned Lord very much longer than this Bill has.”

These possible impacts on hereditary peers have been explored here.

Practical issues – Line of Succession

Whilst these are not likely to impact directly on the majority of our readers, “royal watchers” may be interested in the post on the Royal Central blog, which, in addition to giving an updated line of succession that will come into effect once the bill passes to become law, gives an indication of how it will work in practice, viz.

  • it will not change the current immediate line of succession of those likely to inherit the throne;
  • the first person to be affected will be the Earl of St Andrews, son on the Duke of Kent (who married a Catholic), who will be restored to the line of succession at 32nd.
  • Prince Michael of Kent will be restored to 44th in line to the throne;
  •  the 26th and 27th in line, currently Tāne Lewis and Senna Lewis, (children of Lady Davina Lewis [1]), change places since Tāne was born after 28 October 2011 and so loses his position of male preference over his older sister.

Readers with an interest in the “what if” scenario, had absolute primogeniture applied in earlier periods of history, will gain some entertainment from an article in The Guardian, here.

[1] née Windsor, elder daughter of Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester and the Duchess of Gloucester.