Today, the government of New Zealand introduced its Royal Succession Bill. Interestingly, it didn’t actually have to wait for Parliament to be in session to do this, it just sent a letter to the clerk. In New Zealand, first reading involves a debate – in this case, 12 speeches of ten minutes each. It’s on the order paper, but I don’t know when it will happen precisely. It wasn’t contained in last week’s business statement but I don’t know how often they change.
Queensland did as it said it would and on the 13th of February introduced the Succession to the Crown Bill, read it a first time and sent it to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety committee. The committee was ordered to report by the 27th of February, so we should see a second reading debate in early March. In the meantime, no committee hearings have been scheduled to my knowledge and the committee does not release minutes so far as I can find but I am checking the site regularly for updates. The minister in charge of the bill is one Jarrod Bleijie MP, Attorney-General of Queensland. He made a five minute speech describing the government’s approach to the reforms, found in the daily Hansard.
The Succession to the Crown Bill passed the Commons and is now in the Lords having passed second reading.
The consideration of the bill on report had four new clauses proposed, three amendments and a new schedule which fit into the following five strands:
- Allowing Catholics to ascend to the throne/Giving the title of Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England to a regent when necessary (1 amendment – Conservative and Labour backbenchers – negatived on division 38-371)
- Diverting the succession to adopted children of any heir in a civil partnership (1 amendment – Labour backbencher – not selected)
- Holding a referendum on the monarchy after the death of Elizabeth II (3 amendments – not selected)
- Gender equality rules become entirely retrospective (1 amendment – Labour backbencher – withdrawn)
- Allowing Catholics who convert to Anglicanism to ascend to the throne (2 amendments – Conservative, Labour and SDLP backbenchers – not called)
So over the forty-six days the bill was in the Commons, it spent 520 minutes under scrutiny (505 excepting votes) and while 32 amendments were proposed to the bill, 25 (78%) of those were not selected for debate and only 1 (3%) succeeded and it was a government drafting amendment anyway. Only one amendment, on letting Catholics accede to the throne and appointing a protestant regent Supreme Governor of the Church of England, went to a vote and was defeated 38-371.
One thing that government spokesmen keep saying about the bill’s passage is that it had more time than was necessary to debate the amendments selected. That is true, but rather ignores the very strict approach that the Chairman of Committees took to selecting amendments at committee stage, excluding fully 80% of amendments and the fact that one member left the chamber before his amendment was called meaning he never got the chance to move it. The Speaker at report stage was better, but still only half of the amendments were selected.
Having had a lengthier second reading in the Lords than in the Commons (213 minutes to 181), the bill has now spent 731 minutes under scrutiny in the British parliament.
Debate still rages (as much as a constitutional debate can rage) over the repercussions of the Succession to the Throne Bill, C-53. Two recent articles put forward more views. The first is by Professor Walters from Queen’s University who argues the bill is entirely appropriate and that since the British North America Act 1867 the Queen of Canada is by default whoever is the Queen of the United Kingdom. The second is by Garry Tofoli of the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust who argues that the government’s bill doesn’t change anything and the British laws relating to succession were imported into Canadian law by the schedules of the 1937 Succession to the Throne Act; hence Canada should amend those to make the necessary changes.
I don’t pretend this is my area of expertise, but from what I’ve read a potential flaw in Professor Walter’s thesis is that it was widely believed that from the 11th of December 1936 to the passage of the Succession to the Throne Act 1937 Edward VIII was King of Canada while his brother George VI was King of the United Kingdom. If this is true, then it appears to me it would disprove Professor Walter’s view and focus the discussion more on whether succession is part of Canadian law through the Succession to the Throne Act or whether the Constitution Act 1982 implicitly imported in succession laws of any kind.
Certainly, the other Realms appear to believe they have their own succession laws which must be amended. Only Canada is relying on the precedent of the now-repealed provisions of the Statute of Westminster.
As yet, the Senate of Canada has not given the bill a second reading. The bill has, as yet, had barely a minute’s time under the spotlight of scrutiny in the Parliament of Canada.