Canada has just yesterday completed consideration of the Succession to the Throne Bill 2013, C-53. It has now received Royal Assent. First, a summary.
The House of Commons passed the bill at all stages with no debate; they spent less than a minute considering the matter.
The Senate debated it for around 270 minutes – that’s four hours thirty minutes. They debated the bill itself for 110 of those minutes (40% of the time), listened to witnesses for 160 minutes (59% of the time), though they spent only 55 minutes with those advocating change (20% of the time – only the third reading had one opposing speech out of three), and precisely 0 minutes was spent considering amendments to the bill.
Compare that to the British House of Commons. 585 minutes – 9 hours forty five minutes – debating the bill or its subject in public; 224 minutes (38% of the time) debating the subject of the bill in second and third reading, 66 minutes listening to witnesses (11% of the time) and a full 236 minutes debating 4 amendments to the bill (40% of the time). They also spent 59 minutes (10%) debating how long to debate the bill for.
The British House of Lords, though it hasn’t yet completed its study of the bill, has spent 613 minutes debating the bill in public so far; 10 hours and 13 minutes. 213 of those minutes (34%) were spent debating the subject of the bill in second reading, 397 of those minutes (64%) debating 19 amendments to the bill. Even in second reading in both chambers, many of the speeches in the debate (22 in the House of Lords, ) were not entirely happy with the bill and many of those who spoke went on to propose amendments. I would imagine third reading won’t take more than an hour.
As yet, no other parliament has substantively debated these changes, but so far the Commonwealth parliaments are showing a disturbing lack of ownership of the reforms. It’s their monarchy too*, and yet the two committees who have considered it have both ended up recommending no changes to the actual substance of the reforms, and one (Canada’s Senate Committee) seemed to have no concerns at all despite a heated academic debate on the issue. I kind of thought at least one committee would recommend ending the discrimination against Catholics taking the throne. Hell, they’ve cut to the core of the matter in the House of Lords (“Are they trying to end discrimination against Roman Catholics or are they just trying to enable the heir to the Throne to marry a Roman Catholic?”) where Anglican Bishops sit by right and I (perhaps foolishly) thought the more Catholic Commonwealth Parliaments might have a bit of a view on that. Senator Joyal at least mentioned it at third reading, but no more than that.
Senator Joyal spoke for most of the perhaps fifty-five minutes the bill was debated at third reading. He didn’t see a distinction between the fact that the 1937 bill was brought into Canadian law by a now-repealed section 4 of the Statute of Westminster. He claimed that the UK had redefined marriage, which is sadly untrue; as he is apparently unaware, the Marriage (Same-sex couples) Bill has only just emerged from the thicket of the Commons’ Public Bill Committee after a month of debate there and hasn’t even touched the House of Lords. He said that Canada was following the constitution by using the preamble of the Statute of Westminster to ‘assent’ to the bill, though I always assumed that preambles had no force of law and were merely an aid to interpretation.
He seemed to think no amendments could be put at third reading in the Lords; on that he is wrong, none of the amendments at committee/report were voted on, and so in theory any of them can be brought back to be voted on at third reading. While it is convention that third reading amendments are only drafting ones to tidy up the bill, it is quite often honoured in the breach rather than the observance. To be fair, it can happen easily in a chamber where order is kept by members in general rather than a presiding officer.
Senator Fraser spoke for a few minutes the day before and advocated passing a full succession law like Australia and New Zealand are doing. She gave a good critique of the way in which the government is enacting this reform, though I remain sceptical the bill actually changes anything. She also calls the process of assenting to whatever Westminster produces ‘servile’.
Oh well. We’ll see what the others do…