Clause 2 : Removal of disqualification arising from marriage to a Roman Catholic
1: Clause 2, page 1, line 6, at beginning insert “Notwithstanding the continuing statutory requirement that no Roman Catholic can succeed to the throne,”
My Lords, this is the third time that I have raised this subject on the Floor of the House and I hope that my noble and learned friend will feel that this amendment is more modest and more acceptable than the two previous ones. The background is that the monarch in our country is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Whether we use a modern or—as I personally prefer—a traditional liturgy on Sundays, and whenever we pray for the monarch, we pray for the Queen as the Supreme Governor. Because of the importance of this, and of establishment in our country, many of us feel that this Bill, to which we do not take exception in its main provisions, ought to have in it a recognition of this basic fact.
This modest amendment seeks to make explicit what is already implicit. When he replied to my amendment on Report, my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness—with whom I have had a number of discussions on this matter, for which I am extremely grateful—made quite plain that the monarch could not be a Roman Catholic, even though this Bill allows for successors to the Crown to marry Roman Catholics. This amendment does not in any sense cut across that and does not make any reference at all to the gender issue, which has been accepted throughout the House and in another place. What it very modestly seeks to do is to insert the following few words before Clause 2:
“Notwithstanding the continuing statutory requirement that no Roman Catholic can succeed to the throne”.
Then, of course, the clause continues, as in the Bill, stating that,
“a person is not disqualified from succeeding to the Crown or from possessing it as a result of marrying a person of the Roman Catholic faith”.
Therefore, there is absolutely no alteration to what is in the Bill. The amendment merely seeks to tackle what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said in his speech on Report about ambiguity. He gave an encouraging account of ecumenical relations and we were extremely grateful to him for that. Towards the conclusion of his speech, he also recognised that there was a continuing degree of ambiguity and expressed the hope that that could be tackled, either in the Bill, in an exchange of letters or in some other form.
This modest amendment before your Lordships’ House this afternoon seeks to take up the challenge of clearing up the ambiguity issued by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. It also seeks to meet the points raised by other colleagues in different parts of the House, that we have within the Bill something that recognises the facts as they are. Effectively, all it seeks to do is to translate into legislative form many of the sentiments voiced by my noble and learned friend the Minister in his wind-up to the previous debate. For instance, he said:
“The important point is that the sovereign be a Protestant ... That is the position. The Act of Settlement also requires the sovereign to be in communion with the Church of England”.—[Official Report, 13/3/13; col. 286.]
That is it. As I said earlier, this amendment makes explicit what is implicit, and I do not think that it is such a change as to necessitate consultations with the other realms over which Her Majesty reigns. It is a recognition of the sovereign’s particular and important role within the established church and it is in that spirit that I move this amendment and hope that the Minister will be able to accept it. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has made generous and kind reference to my contribution on Report and I do not intend to labour and repeat the detailed comments that I made to the House on my understanding both of Roman Catholic canon law and realistic pastoral practice in the case of mixed marriages. I thought afterwards that here was a Church of England bishop getting up with the temerity to talk about what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and does. Therefore, I thought that I had better write to Archbishop Vincent Nichols and ask whether my contribution, as recorded in Hansard, was the case.
I have a letter in my hand from Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, on behalf of the Archbishop. Speaking in that capacity, as well as in a Westminster capacity, Marcus Stock gives me full permission to share this letter with the noble and learned Lord the Minister. I have indeed done that; he may wish to make reference to it himself, and to earlier conversations with the Cabinet Office. That will presumably come out a little later.
I simply say that the exposition of what I understand to be 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 confirmed in the letter that I have received. It was also his clear indication that this should be passed on to the Minister, which I have done. So I will not take up more of your Lordships’ time but say simply that what I said on Report is indeed the case in terms of Roman Catholic law and practice. I believe that should give some assurance with regard to the important matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
Of course, the right reverend Prelate and I have discussed this privately and in the company of others. Does he accept that the incorporation of this amendment into the Bill would in no way cast any different doubts or cause any problems with what he has just referred to?
My Lords, is it not the case that when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford made his statement previously, one or two of us asked whether that could somehow be put on the record in a more secure form? Is this not exactly the sort of way in which it could be put on record? Surely that sort of gloss, understanding or undertaking—however one wants to express it—by the Roman Catholic Church is worth more than an amendment, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will perhaps consider that to be the case.
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Cormack will think again about this amendment. It is a very difficult situation—we are where we are—but if you read the Act of Succession, you see words which none of us in this House would like to see applied today to Her Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects, all of whom pray for Her Majesty every Sunday and every Mass. It is very difficult for us to take what is a piece of rampant discrimination. Frankly, for many of us, particularly the ex-Anglicans, the whole concept of a secular monarch being Supreme Governor of the Church of England is very odd, but we are where we are.
I merely ask my noble friend not to rub this in by adding yet more to it. Let us accept that both sides have come to what is an uneasy compromise in a world which thinks utterly differently. If you read the Act of Settlement, you have to wonder what the rest of the world must think about us tinkering with something that frankly ought not to be part of the constitution of the United Kingdom because it does not have anything to do with our view about equality and difference in a society such as ours. It is because of our history and we understand that and do not want to raise that, but please let us accept where the Government are.
I urge my noble friend not to press this. It is bad enough anyway. This merely makes it worse, and it would be helpful for my noble friend to recognise the degree of reticence on the Roman Catholic side on this issue, for many years and again now. Following the great wisdom that we have heard from the right reverend Prelate, this seems to be the moment to let it lie and to withdraw this amendment.
My Lords, I take a slightly different view from that of my noble friend Lord Deben and indeed have some sympathy with the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Cormack. As I see it, the Bill in its present form paves the way, possibly, for the heir to the Throne and hence the occupant of the Throne to be a Roman Catholic—although I know that there are other provisions that prevent that—and at the same time Supreme Governor of the Church of England. That seems to be an absurdity which has not been addressed by the Bill although it was pointed out in earlier stages.
I am happy to be told that I am entirely wrong in all this, that I have misunderstood that it will not happen and that there are ways and means of preventing it, in which case that is a good thing. That said, the position of the Roman Catholics as described by my noble friend is an important one, which likewise needs to be taken into account. I shall have a little bit more to say when we get to the Motion that the Bill do now pass, but for the mean time I address my remarks only to the amendment of my noble friend.
I declare an interest as a former member of the Royal Household and I pay tribute to the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, to see this important point discussed in this House. What has just been said about making explicit what is implicit is important, but this amendment is not absolutely necessary. There are three reasons for that.
First, as has just been stated, we are where we are, clearly, with the Act of Settlement and the law of the land that the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England. Secondly, we have heard on several occasions that whereas there is legal certainty about where we stand in terms of the Church of England, the Catholic position on mixed marriages is more flexible and nuanced in its term that it is a pastoral matter. That is important. Thirdly, there is a precedent. There is a mixed marriage in the Royal Family where the children have been brought up as members of the Church of England.
My concern is that if we in the United Kingdom start introducing amendments that are not absolutely necessary, there may be desires in other realms to do the same and to start unravelling what is a most important piece of legislation that will strengthen the monarchy. I hope that in considering whether to go ahead with this amendment we can bear in mind that we must not allow a compromise across the realms to be undermined for the sake of something that is nice to have but not absolutely necessary.
My Lords, in the light of the reassuring words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, I wish to speak only for a moment on the subject of this amendment. I find very little fault with it. The fault that I do find is not in the amendment but in the effect it may have in reopening debate on others of the Queen’s realms. That may possibly give rise to other amendments that we would find less welcome. I have sympathy with the amendment and the motives behind it but I must say that I am not able to support it in this instance.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will have concluded that raising the legislation with the other realms would create considerable complications. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, aright, he was making it plain that the purpose of this amendment was to try to remove any misunderstandings that may still exist about the position of the Roman Catholic Church in connection with the children in line of succession arising from a mixed marriage.
In the debates that we have had over past few weeks, not least on Report, there has been considerable clarification. The Minister has said a lot more since the Second Reading and above all the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford has set out very clearly what he perceives to be the position of the Roman Catholic Church. The only thing that is missing is a clear endorsement of its position, as expressed by the right reverend Prelate, by representatives of the Archbishop of Westminster, or by the Archbishop himself. Given the remarkable progress that has been made in relations between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church it would be helpful to have that endorsement. I hope that the Minister can help us in that regard.
My Lords, like several noble Lords who have just spoken, I take the view that this would insert into the Bill an unnecessary recital with no legal force. It would have the complication, as has been mentioned, of making it more complex and difficult to obtain agreement among all the 16 realms that need to agree to the proposals.
The intention of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is to seek further reassurance that despite the removal of the ban on Catholic marriages, no Catholic could ever succeed to the throne. He and others have made this point with some force throughout our debates. However, I wonder, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, whether we are not pushing too hard on this point. Obviously the case has been made in an attempt to ensure that the Anglican supremacy is preserved. However, all that it serves to do is push our attention further toward the fact that the removal of the ban on Catholic marriages—obviously a welcome measure in itself—exposes the religious discriminations that remain. That is, no one who is a Catholic or who is not in communion with the Church of England can succeed to the throne.
It has been said that we are where we are, and I have some sympathy with that. However, we as a Parliament will need to return to some of these points in the not too distant future.
My Lords, I understand that in tabling the amendment my noble friend Lord Cormack sought to put beyond doubt the requirement that the sovereign be a Protestant and in communion with the Church of England. I readily recognise the concerns expressed by my noble friend; at every stage of the Bill, he has clearly sought to find a means of addressing them. I readily acknowledge that this amendment is, to use his words, more modest than those that he moved in Committee and on Report. However, as has been indicated in our short debate, the Government believe that it is unnecessary as both the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement are unambiguous with regard to the requirement that the sovereign be a Protestant and in communion with the Church of England.
The Bill does not pave the way to change that. No one who is not in communion with the Church of England may ascend the throne. That rules out Roman Catholics as well as many other people. I have concerns that by attempting to reiterate this, and to single out the peculiar and particular prohibition on Roman Catholics, one risks causing offence. I am sure that that was not intended, but one does risk causing offence to many of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects when there is no good reason in law to do so. I do not believe that we should put into a Bill words that could cause unnecessary offence and reopen wounds. It has also been said that the amendment is unnecessary in law and could therefore lead to other jurisdictions that have responsibilities in this regard putting forward amendments and unpicking an agreement that has been very carefully constructed across the realms over a considerable time.
As the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the sovereign must be both Protestant and in communion with the Church of England. For this reason, we are not removing the bar on Roman Catholics acceding to the throne, as set out in the Act of Settlement and Bill of Rights. Of course, we have heard expressed in a number of our debates the perceived problem of the heir to the throne marrying a person of another faith. That problem exists under present law; it is not one created by the Bill. Clause 2 merely provides parity of treatment between Roman Catholics and people of all other non-Protestant faiths.
Nevertheless, I have recognised and understand the profound concerns that have been expressed. As the House knows, following a commitment made in Committee, I met Monsignor Stock on behalf of Archbishop Nichols and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to discuss this matter. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford indicated, Archbishop Nichols indicated that the wording had been discussed with the Cabinet Office. I have the specific consent of Monsignor Stock to say that he was speaking on behalf of Archbishop Nichols as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and can 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.
My Lords, this was not a letter, it was a form of words that was agreed between Monsignor Stock and the Cabinet Office that I have placed on the record. There was a letter to me from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford that enclosed a copy of a letter that indicated what I have just said. I do not believe that it is in my gift to say that it will be placed in the Library, but I reassure my noble friend that I have just used the words that were in that letter. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford for his contribution to our debates, both today and on Report, and for what he did following Report in engaging further with Monsignor Stock and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Indeed, on Report the right reverend Prelate, in a speech that I believe was very helpful to the House, concluded that the teaching of the Catholic Church on this matter,
“bears out the Government’s assurance that the Roman Catholic rules are not a block to the smooth functioning of the proposed succession rules”. —[Official Report, 13/3/13; col. 282.]
As I have stated both in Committee and on Report, we have a very clear signal that the overriding concern in Catholic pastoral guidance to couples in mixed marriages is the unity and indissolubility of the marriage. We have an equally clear signal from the Church of England, included in their briefing note to Members, that:
“The present prohibition … is not necessary to support the requirement that the Sovereign join in communion with the Church of England”.
Again, I recognise the concern with which my noble friend moved his amendment. I reiterate that the requirement that the sovereign be a Protestant remains as solidly placed in law as ever. In this context, I invite him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part in this brief but, I think, important debate. I listened with particular care to the speech of the right reverend Prelate and, of course, to what my noble and learned friend said. I believe that we have gone some distance in our three debates. We now have certain statements on the record that I believe are helpful to those of us who have concerns but are in no sense anti-Roman Catholic. My noble friend Lord Deben knows that when he left the Anglican Church to become a Roman Catholic, I honoured him for that decision. A similar decision was made by Miss Ann Widdecombe. I myself agonised at that time although in the end, instead of joining the Roman Catholic Church, I found myself elected to the General Synod to take the place that my noble friend had vacated.
I believe very much in the importance of our established church. However I may die, whether as an Anglican or as a Roman Catholic, I hope that the Church of England will continue as the established church of England. It is because of that, and because our constitution, as has often been said, is like a beautifully constructed watch, in that if you take one little piece out the whole thing will fall apart, that I have expressed my concern in three brief debates. The last thing I wish to do is to cause offence to anyone, particularly Roman Catholics, as I hold the Roman Catholic Church in high regard and always have. I very cheerfully pray, as we do frequently in Anglican churches, for the Pope. I would have liked to have seen something in the Bill that made explicit what is implicit, but I understand the points that have been made, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Janvrin, Lord Fellowes and Lord Luce. Because I think that we have moved some distance, I will spare the House the exercise of going into the Division Lobbies.
On a final note, I hope that something can go into the Library of the House, as requested by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. When I concluded my speech at the end of Report, I expressed the hope that at a fairly high level there could be an exchange of letters, and I hope that that is still possible.
I thank my noble and learned friend for the concern and sympathy with which he has listened to the arguments advanced. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: The Schedule, page 3, line 28, at end insert—
“Union with Scotland Act 17066 In Article XXV, Section 2 of the Union with Scotland Act 1706, for “preserve the foresaid Settlement of the true Protestant Religion with the Government Worship Discipline right and Privileges of this Church as above established by the Laws of this Kingdom in Prosecution of the Claim of Right” substitute “preserve the declaration, uphold and maintain the rights and subject specified therein”.
Accession Declaration Act 19107 In the Schedule to the Accession Declaration Act 1910, for “according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne of my Realm, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law” substitute “according to the true intention to the declaration, uphold and maintain the rights and subject specified therein”.”
My Lords, this is in the nature of being a semi-probing amendment. I want to test the extent to which we have arrived collectively at answers to each of the four questions that I have developed through the currency of this Bill, and see whether my noble and learned friend the Minister can satisfy us, in his conclusions, that each of the tripwires and pitfalls that we have seen are now capable of being avoided. I come to this very much in the spirit of the finest executive I ever had the privilege of working with, who used to say, “Don’t give me people around me who know all the answers. I want the people who know all the questions”. It is in that spirit that I come, even though I stand here as somebody without any shred of qualification. I do not even have an 11-plus pass. Given that circumstance, it might be said that I have a right nerve to stand up here and ask these questions today in such an intensely legal affair but then, on the other hand, somebody has to.
In all this, I start by expressing my appreciation to my noble and learned friend the Minister for the considerable time, and the enormous patience and care, that he has given to answering each of the questions that I have raised directly with him. He has been absolutely splendid. My noble and learned friend will not be surprised to hear that while I have read every word he has written with great care, that is not the same as agreeing with every word I have read. It is clear that the principal point of difference between us is that he believes that I am relying on the entrenched status, as such, whereas it is the status and ordinary meaning of the statute law as it now stands, and as it relates to our duty and the Crown’s duty, that concerns me. I repeat: our duty and the Crown’s duty, which I do not believe are the same thing.
I was grateful to the Bill Office for agreeing to write to the Clerk of the House of Commons to ask what basis of interpretation it had placed on the use of a delegation of the royal prerogative in addressing its own debate on this subject. If I understand the very complicated answer correctly, it is along the following lines. The Crown cannot delegate something that it does not posses; it can delegate only the authority that it has, in which case it can delegate the power to us to give an opinion as to whether we want a Bill to pass and say “Content”, but it cannot delegate to us the authority to give it assent. That is retained by the Crown in all cases.
However, the Crown has to adhere to that in strict accordance with the coronation and proclamation oaths which precede it. Those oaths, passed through the Declaration of Rights in 1689, relate to all the powers that the Crown rightly held before the revolution. It ensured that the Crown could no longer deny that it was bound by the statute law with explicit changes to the coronation oath, made by enacting the Coronation Oath Act 1688. The settlement has been said by Her Majesty, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of that great document, to be the sure foundation of our constitution. I am sure that Her Majesty would take that same view without any amendment today. It will be interesting to see, when and if the Bill passes to her for Royal Assent, how she will interpret that obligation in the context of those oaths.
The vulnerability here would arise if the passage of the Bill was deemed to represent a precedent by which to justify far more draconian changes than could be permitted to the established laws of this land under the Bill of Rights and to the detriment of the rights and liberties of the subject. By relying on such a precedent, in theory it is possible to introduce arbitrary power with a Bill of no greater apparent significance than this, to reintroduce the use of judicial torture or repeal the principle of “no taxation without representation”. These are, clearly, highly undesirable outcomes.
If this Bill is enacted with the addition of the amendment that I have proposed, from the next accession and beyond we would have the satisfaction—albeit that there may be a vulnerability prior to that accession —of knowing that the fundamental rights and liberties of the subjects have been restored absolutely. As such, I commend my measure as an opportunity that we ought to take. It is like a deep third man, in cricketing terms, by sweeping up all the bits that might otherwise trickle through. I commend my measure as an opportunity that we ought to take to hope, and later ensure, that no precedent might arise from this to the detriment of the rights and liberties of the subject. If we pass the Bill we risk setting a precedent with the potential for the worst possible outcome in the fullness of time, not knowing what future Governments and future authorities might wish to be brought to bear.
The Minister and I do not disagree on everything; he has quoted some words with which I wholly agree. They are:
“Parliament has also, for the time being at least, limited its own powers… It is possible that other qualifications may emerge in due course”.
This was with reference to the Europeans Communities Act and the Human Rights Act. It was also noted in the Countryside Alliance case. Others took the view that supremacy was no longer absolute in Jackson v the Attorney-General, with reference to the sovereignty of Parliament. There is definitely scope for divergence of opinion as to the legitimacy of the measure. If the Human Rights Act can affect the power of the law in force, it certainly cannot be said to be less significant than the Bill of Rights. There are duties emanating from the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement which require all in office not to breach their provisions. That is us, the Crown and its advisers.
There is an issue here that none of us noticed previously. There is no precedent for any Parliament ever proposing to a monarch a breach of a coronation oath without that Parliament resigning within the week. Is that seriously a risk this House would wish to take at present? I can see the looks of keen anticipation on the Benches opposite at that prospect but you cannot have governance and Parliament by accident, carelessness and oversight, which would be the case. We need to know what would happen.
The two instances in which Governments have been forced to resign in this case involved, first and most notably, a not insignificant Prime Minister called William Pitt the Younger in 1801. He had been in receipt of that enormous reorganisation document on the future order of battle and conduct of the British Army compiled by Sir John Moore, whose “corse to the ramparts” we bore in the poem. Sir John had written this far-reaching plan for the future of the British Army but had said, “This is ridiculous; we are wasting half the potential officer talent because we do not allow Catholics to be officers. Let them in”. Pitt said, “Great idea, let’s do it”. He went off to see the Crown, the Crown said, “Resign immediately”, and he did, despite the fact that there were 650,000 French troops on the shores at Calais waiting to invade under Napoleon.
Six years later, in 1807, almost the same thing happened again. This time it was a certain Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, who with his usual forthright style had gone off to take the expeditionary force into Portugal. He had written to the Ministry of Defence and the War Office and said, “I am trying to fight a war against a Catholic army in a Catholic country and I have nothing but English schoolboys who are all well educated and stupid and all Protestants. I need some Catholic officers, please”. Lord Grenville, Prime Minister of the ministry of all the talents at the time, agreed, went back to the King and three days later he was out of power along with the whole Government. Are this Government going to last the week? Do we want them to? Yes, we do; we want the orderly continuity. Has anybody considered this implication and what will happen?
Passing this Bill in its present form will represent a denial by this House of the words and intentions of the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement. This legal point is not reliant, in the words of my noble friend; the argument must therefore be that some statutes are of such constitutional significance that they cannot be amended or appealed. The solution I have proposed in this amendment was the Duke of Wellington’s eventual solution, by which he got Catholic officers, of which there are now a very large number, into the British Army. This was achieved as a means of providing a sort of stopgap whereby you could suspend the oath for a period and then re-establish it, and hope that nobody did anything to alter the law against the interests of the subject in the mean time.
I am deeply grateful to the Bill Office for helping me to write that. It has also added the excellent extra clause, which addresses a separate Scottish oath of allegiance at the Coronation, thereby removing the threat, of which I have previously talked, that the Bill in its present form shreds chapter 25 of the Act of Union and renders the referendum in Scotland unnecessary; they have gone already.
My concern is that the law commands us directly not to do these things, but entirely to uphold the Bill of Rights. That duty has not been and is not being repealed. If we set a precedent, and this is simply set aside and ridden over roughshod, we appear to be placing ourselves above and outside the scope of the present law. This is far and away beyond the intended scope of this simple and otherwise desirable Bill. If, however, your Lordships now resolve to be content with the Bill, I first ask noble Lords either to consider passing the amendment, which would be a solution to all four points, or to take their chances in passing it to the Crown and hoping that the Crown can do more correctly what we will have failed to do ourselves.
There can be no doubt as to the requirements and priority of the future protection of the rights and liberties of the people of this country. The alternative is that we get an answer from the Minister which writes into the record something to which future generations can look back with satisfaction and recognise as an absolute assurance that, in Her Majesty’s words, the Bill of Rights will remain “a sure thing”, and we can all benefit from it.
My Lords, this is a bit of a minefield, so I tread with care and trepidation. I will make a very brief intervention, primarily to say to my noble friend how much I recognise the concerns he has expressed and the care with which he has followed these matters through. I know that he is extremely anxious, not only on his own behalf but on our collective behalf, that the legislation now going through the House is correct in so far as it seeks to affect the role and rights of the sovereign and sovereign succession and that it in no way undermines the position of any Member of your Lordships’ House, let alone that of any citizen outside the House.
I believe that the main answer to the questions that my noble friend raises rests in the sovereignty of Parliament. It is, as I perceive it, the right of Parliament to make alterations to legislation, even including the Bill of Rights. As I interpret it, the primary purpose of the Bill of Rights was to protect the interests and the rights of the people. The rights of the people are currently preserved in the powers and obligations of the Houses of Parliament and of the Government of the day. It is for us to make such amendments as we feel are necessary or desirable. In this particular case, a narrow amendment is being suggested which in a way underlines what was required of the sovereign at the time of the Bill of Rights; namely, that the heir to the Throne shall be a Protestant. There is nothing more to it than that. It therefore seems to me that we are exercising a traditional and constitutional right of Parliament to make amendments and alternations as we think proper. We are not in any way going against the obligations or commitments of the Crown. In carrying these matters forward, we shall be preserving the constitutional requirement in this country that the future monarch shall be a Protestant and a practising communicant member of the Church of England.
I do not think that the worries and anxieties my noble friend has expressed so profoundly are justified and, as he himself said, my noble and learned friend the Minister has given a great deal of care and attention to these issues and has written a letter of some considerable length to him that certainly satisfied me in the arguments put forward.
My Lords, I certainly understand that my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath has had serious, profound concerns about this Bill which he expressed even before Second Reading. I recognise the persistence and diligence with which he has continued to raise these issues. I am grateful for his kind comments and I think he would recognise that the comments and concerns he has raised have been given proper consideration.
It appears to me that my noble friend is concerned that, in allowing an heir to the Throne to marry a Catholic, this Bill would contravene the promises that each sovereign is required to make to maintain the established Protestant religion and in some way subvert the Bill of Rights or the Act of Settlement. It will come as no surprise to my noble friend that I disagree with his view, as I have made clear on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House. Again, I want to make it quite clear that we are not amending the provisions of the Bill of Rights or the Act of Settlement which say that the sovereign has to be a Protestant.
My noble friend Lord Eden of Winton put his finger on the point. Indeed, I wrote at some length in my letter to my noble friend Lord James about the sovereignty of Parliament in the case of Jackson v Attorney-General in which the House of Lords considered the Parliament Act 1911. 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”.
With a former Lord Advocate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, present, I had better say that there has been some question about that in some respects in Scotland following the dicta of Lord President Cooper in MacCormick v Lord Advocate. Nevertheless, Lord Bingham expressed that view very clearly in the Jackson case.
Given that the prohibition on the sovereign being a Catholic remains, we 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. I do not think I can really elaborate on it. My noble friend and I are going to have to agree to disagree because we believe that there is nothing in this Bill which subverts the Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement or the oath which Her Majesty made on her accession. In the circumstances, I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I reassure him immediately that my concern here is not about the religion of the monarch. I gave up religion at the age of 19 when I was studying for ordination to the Church of England. I discovered that while the Catholics burnt people because they thought it released the soul to go to heaven quicker in order to plead for mercy, the Protestant church was allowing hanging, drawing and quartering on the forecourt of St Paul’s Cathedral—where we all walked last week—to be able to discharge the secular crime of treason under the guise of being a religious crime against the church. At that point my faith crumbled very rapidly and was never restored.
My concern here is not primarily those factors. It is that we are putting Her Majesty in a position where we are asking her to breach the coronation oath, which I would not do under any circumstances. I have provided a suggestion as to how we may circumvent that by borrowing an initiative of the Duke of Wellington from 120 years ago, but none the less we need to be sure that it would work and that is my concern. If the noble Lord will answer that, I will be happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
My Lords, I indicated on Report that I would report to the House once the necessary steps in each realm had been completed and we were in a position to commence the legislation simultaneously. I reiterate that commitment. As it may be of interest to your Lordships, I can inform the House that since our debate on Report, Royal Assent was given to the Canadian Succession to the Throne Act on 27 March. We received confirmation from the Government of Antigua and Barbuda that, based on the nature of their constitution, they will not need to legislate to give the changes effect, and that the Council of Australian Governments agreed on 19 April, last Friday, to a process to change their laws.
As I have indicated on a number of occasions, the provisions in this Bill have been carefully worked out in agreement with the realms, and it is important that we now proceed to pass this Bill and show that we have been able to fulfil the task asked of us by the realm Prime Ministers in Perth in 2001. It is an important piece of legislation that has its roots in securing better equality, and certainly we await with great expectation the birth of a child to their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We wish them every health, in particular the Duchess as she proceeds towards the birth of her child. In doing so, we know that if this Bill passes, and if the required processes take place in the other realms, that child, irrespective of whether it is a boy or a girl, will take its place in line to the throne ahead of any subsequent siblings. Therefore, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
My Lords, I do not intend to delay the passage of this Bill for more than a few moments. It is sad that this Bill has been driven through with such speed. Many of us would have preferred a Joint Select Committee, for example, 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. This Bill has also set running the hare of what happens to the hereditary peerage with regard to the succession arrangements for hereditary peers. I must tell your Lordships that those arrangements are, as I understand it, a great deal more complicated even than they are for the Crown. I dare say that if Bills come forward for that purpose they will delay the noble and learned Lord very much longer than this Bill has.