Once again this month, the law relating to the Royal Succession is in the news (“ The law relating to the succession: religious restriction of little practical significance “ 7 January 2011 )
In news that will disappoint Australia's republicans, changes to the law on succession to the throne, which would give any daughters of Prince William the same rights as his sons, are being considered by the British government , the BBC reported on 19 January.
The republicans used the succession law as part of their campaign up to their landslide defeat in 1999.
Under the Act of Settlement, males take precedence but this could change as part of a widespread review. Unlike many European countries, women could succeed in England, as Mary I, Elizabeth, Mary II and Victoria did.
Victoria did not succeed to Hanover because female succession was not allowed under Salic law.
Under the Act of Settlement, Roman Catholics cannot succeed. The rule was introduced to block the return to the throne of King James II and his direct heirs who were under the influence of the French King Louis XIV, who was attempting to control all of Europe.
At that time The Pope was in alliance with the Protestant King William III and Queen Mary II of England in opposition to the Catholic King of France Louis XIV. In the painting attributed to Pieter vand der Muelen of the landing of King William III in Ireland, Pope Innocent XI is depicted blessing The King.
Work began in 2007 on amending the Act, which bans Roman Catholics from the throne, the Cabinet Office confirmed. This was initiated by the previous Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Legislation in the 15 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is monarch would also need amending. ( See “The Australian Crowns and the Rules of Succession,” Dr Anne Twomey Monday, 28 September 2009)
Labour MP Keith Vaz introduced his Succession to the Crown Bill on Tuesday 18 January. It was given an unopposed first reading in the Commons on Tuesday but according to the BBC stands little chance of becoming law because of a lack of parliamentary time. It deals only with female succession.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson told the BBC:
"Amending the Act of Settlement is a complex and difficult matter that requires careful and thoughtful consideration. "The government accepts that the provisions in the Act of Settlement could be discriminatory.
"Discussions have started with those Commonwealth countries who would be directly affected by any change in the rules, and are continuing, but it would not be appropriate to release details at this stage."
Republican claims that this proves Australia is not independent are legally wrong. The United Kingdom Parliament has no power to legislate for Australia, even at our request. It is for Australia, and possibly the States, to decide whether the Act of Settlement should be amended. By convention, expressed in the Statute of Westminster, Commonwealth Realms have agreed to maintain a common succession.
Although much criticized by the republican movement, no republican politician – while in office – has ever done anything to see to its repeal.
Neither Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd nor Julia Gillard has shown the slightest interest in even raising the issue with the other Realms.
Nor did the most republican minister the nation has ever known, Al Grassby. Indeed he was so ‘passionate’ a republican he wrote a book calling for it , “The Australian Republic” published by Pluto Press in 1993.
As Sir David Smith revealed, Grassbty actually claimed that the monarchy was responsible for the recession, for one million unemployed and for the exodus of our top scientists. Grassby was later found to have engaged in a smear campaign to protect the murderers of the anti drug campaigner Donald Mackay. There was clear evidence that he was corrupt and linked to criminal elements.
What is clear is that when it is finally amended, it is likely that the republican movement will be disappointed to lose the Act of Settlement as a weapon against our constitutional system.
…no practical significance…
In a recent column, “The law relating to the succession: religious restriction of little practical significance,” 7 January, we pointed out that Tony Abbott has dismissed the practical significance of the religious restriction in the law.