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Succession to the Crown Bill: some reflections

From Law & Religion UK: Guest post from Dr Bob Morris of the UCL Constitution Unit: this time an analysis of the new proposals for succession to the Crown

The Succession to the Crown Bill aims to achieve three things:
  • primogeniture gender neutrality;
  • removal of marriage to Roman Catholics as a disqualification for succession; and
  • limitation to the first six in line to the throne of the sovereign approval requirement for proposed marriages.
The content of the proposals is admirably explained in the relevant House of Commons Library research paper RP12/81.
 
The provisions have had a long gestation because of the need to consult the fifteen other Commonwealth countries (the “realms”) which have the UK sovereign as their head of state. The Statute of Westminster 1931 expresses, in effect, an expectation that they will be consulted about proposed changes to succession rules and royal styles and titles. There is also the very practical imperative that consultation is necessary to prevent different succession rules producing different monarchs for different countries.
 
How the Prime Minister broached the enterprise to his colleagues in the Commonwealth realms is unknown because the relevant letter remains undisclosed. Publication would help understanding of which parts of the plan were thought to fall within the 1931 expectations and which were not. Gender-blind primogeniture clearly would have so fallen; but Roman Catholic marriages and, certainly, the Royal Marriages Act 1772 could be thought to fall into different categories.
 
Each provision of the Bill is admirable in its way but the government’s wish to pursue an expedited procedure in Parliament betrays – in its unspoken wish to curtail debate – some anxiety over how these parts are to be understood against each other and related provisions. Although the government has been careful to set out the reasons for expedition responding to the criteria recommended by a Lords committee, its position is somewhat undermined by the fact that the legislation has from the beginning been expected to have retrospective effect. The government will no doubt argue that Parliament should not interfere with a package so laboriously negotiated with fifteen other countries. There is also the fact that few, surely, would wish to submit the Cambridges to any more uncertainty than is necessary.
 
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