The Senate of Canada has now sent the Succession to the Throne Bill to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs – during second reading only two speeches were made; one by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator LeBreton) and a Liberal member of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee (Senator Joyal) with interventions from Senators Segal, Mercer, and Fraser. The entire debate took place over two days and lasted around 55 minutes (it’s hard to tell because of the way the Senate Hansard states times). The Senate of Canada appears to favour a large variety of subjects to be considered on any day, adjourning the debates where necessary; I’m not sure why this practice arose, but it’s sort of anticlimactic.
Essentially, the Liberals and Conservatives in the Senate appear to be in agreement: they support both the idea behind the bill and the method of implementation (the ‘assenting’ procedure) and while an attempt is made to address the question of the constitutionality of the assenting procedure, there are still those who are against it. They are, however, going to have a detailed committee stage of the bill involving two hearings from constitutional experts on the 20th and 21st of March which probably means this issue will come up again.
They also endorse the idea (initiated by Lord Wallace of Tankerness) that the bill is in effect a treaty between nations and hence Parliament’s role is circumscribed. I’m not too comfortable with sidelining parliament when discussing our constitutional arrangements.
Senator Joyal does appear to suggest that the Canadian bill must be passed before the UK one because of the Statute of Westminster. That’s interesting; I knew that they were all going to be commenced at the same time (or so goes the intention). Well, no other jurisdiction has to my knowledge said they’re going to use the assenting procedure, but it’s interesting that until very recently Lords’ third reading was scheduled for the 20th of March. Peers asked for ‘sufficient time’ between report and third reading which implies that they thought that the proposed week wasn’t sufficient. The bill has been postponed and now has not got a third reading scheduled before the 22nd of April, so Senator Joyal should be pleased.
Of course, the Commonwealth parliament of Australia hasn’t published a bill yet and some of the Caribbean Commonwealth parliaments aren’t even in session for the year yet. There’s still much to do.
The Commonwealth Attorney-General has put out a press release attacking the Queensland Succession to the Crown Bill. Apparently Queensland taking it into its own hands ‘delays’ the process somehow; yet the constitutional process the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) proposes requires a two-stage process where the states must pass enabling legislation before the Commonwealth can legislate. That seems longer than each state and the Commonwealth passing its own.
Presumably Australia won’t begin its process until COAG has reached agreement on a common text, and they don’t next meet until the 19th of April. First each state (bar Queensland) will need to pass a Succession to the Crown (Commonwealth Powers) Bill giving the Commonwealth power to legislate; then the Commonwealth parliament can legislate for it in its own Succession to the Crown (Removal of Discrimination) Bill, or whatever they end up calling it. Queensland has not yet set a date for second reading that I can identify.
Last Wednesday, the Lords considered the report of the Committee of the whole House – the report being the bill that came out of the committee. 10 amendments were submitted for debate (one was later withdrawn) and the last chance peers had to propose amendments is Monday*. The amendments can be grouped into 10 strands, many of which came up in previous stages. I’ll do some analysis of the strands soon.
- Ensure the line of succession only includes natural born heirs of the monarch and his or her husband or wife (withdrawn – Conservative backbencher)
- Make the succession to the Duchy of Cornwall operate on the same basis as that of the Crown (withdrawn – Labour backbencher)
- Ensure the child of a monarch must be brought up an Anglican (withdrawn – Conservative backbencher)
- Increase the royal marriage veto number from six to twelve (withdrawn – Conservative backbencher)
- Ensure the marriage in the bill applies only to opposite-sex marriage (withdrawn pre-debate – Conservative backbencher)
- Ensure the bill comes into force only by statutory instrument which has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament (withdrawn – Conservative backbencher)
- Ensure the bill comes into force only by order which must be approved by the Scottish Parliament (withdrawn – Conservative backbencher)
- Stating that the bill applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland (not moved – Conservative backbencher)
- Ensure the bill comes into force when equivalent provisions are passed in the relevant Commonwealth parliaments (withdrawn – Conservative backbencher)
- Ensure that any children produced by IVF are not eligible to succeed to the Crown (not moved – Conservative backbencher)
Again, all members proposing amendments were Conservatives apart from one – a Labour hereditary peer. The government conceded that it would inform parliament better about the methods the Commonwealth realms are implementing their reforms prior to commencing the bill, but no actual votes were held nor amendments accepted.
Other Commonwealth realms
As yet, I can’t find any other realms that have published their reforms. Of course, according the Lord Wallace, only Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines actually need legislation.
The rest of the realms simply assert that the laws of the United Kingdom will dictate the identity of their monarch due to the wording of their constitutions. However, both them and the above Realms constitutional texts are very similar and so it might well be that they also decide they don’t need to legislate.
Of course, very few of these realms have good websites for their parliaments and so following progress on their bills would be difficult anyway.