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Coronation Oath Changes

Volume 511: debated on Wednesday 25 February 1953

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I should now like to make my statement in reply to Question No. 45.

The terms of the Coronation Oath were first prescribed by the Act 1 William and Mary, chapter 6. Since then its terms have been changed at least five times. On one occasion only has the change had legislative sanction, namely the change which was introduced as a result of the Act of Union with Scotland. The Treaty of Union had provided that in Scotland the religion professed by the people of Scotland should be preserved to them and confirmed by every King on his accession, and it was thought proper that similar provision should be made for the protection of the English Church in England. The Coronation Oath was altered and enlarged accordingly.

For the many subsequent changes, large or small, which have been made in the terms of the Oath there was no legislative sanction. They were made at various times, and, in particular, after the Act of Union with Ireland, after the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, and also after the passing of the Statute of Westminster. On the last occasion the question whether the changes that were necessary to meet the new constitutional position could be made without an Act of Parliament was carefully considered. and the Lord Chancellor and the Law Officers of the day advised that they could.

am advised by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor that this opinion was clearly correct, and that the changes now proposed, which are, perhaps, less substantial than those made in 1937, but are required to meet the new constitutional position created by the Indian Independence Act, 1947, and other statutes, can also be made without legislative sanction.

Her Majesty's Government propose to follow this long line of precedents. To accept the view that changes in the terms of the Oath which are necessary to reconcile it with a changed constitutional position cannot be made except with the authority of an Act of Parliament would be to cast doubt upon the validity of the Oath administered to every Sovereign of this country since George I.

If, as I am advised, the Coronation Oath can be lawfully administered in the terms now proposed, no useful purpose would be served by legislation. It must be remembered that at Westminster the Queen will be crowned Queen not only of the United Kingdom, but also of other self-governing countries of the Commonwealth. The form of Oath now proposed has been put to each of these countries and none has raised any objection, or has suggested that it is necessary to pass legislation in its own Parliament or in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it would not be possible in the time now remaining before the Coronation to arrange for legislation to be passed by the Commonwealth countries concerned.

May I say, having had some experience of these difficulties, that I think it is extremely satisfactory that agreement has been obtained throughout the Commonwealth on this Oath, and that we should be well advised to allow this to proceed without legislation?

May 1, with respect. put this to the Prime Minister? While no one would wish to throw doubt on the validity of the Coronation Oaths in the past, in view of the fact that the Coronation Oath is a Parliamentary creation, and is intended as a limitation on the Prerogative, is it not desirable, though it may be inconvenient, that any changes that are proposed this year should have legislative sanction, for which, I am sure, there would be no difficulty in making the appropriate arrangements on a non-controversial basis? It is a matter which affects the rights of Parliament, and not merely the rights of the Executive.

I think those important and weighty points have been covered by the answer which I have given to the House.

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has considered the speech of an important member of the Irish Government in regard to this matter?

is the hon. Gentleman speaking for the Irish Government of Northern Ireland or for the Eire Government, I believe it is—the Government of the Republic?

The official name is the Government of Ireland, not the Government of Northern Ireland, which is a very small part of Ireland.

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a strong feeling in Scotland about the Oath being taken to a Queen Elizabeth II on the ground of historical inaccuracy? In view of his great claim to historical accuracy himself, will he not do something' to meet this very strong resentment in Scotland?

I shall be very glad to hear from the hon. Member if he will put his question in the pillar box.