Wednesday 2 February 2011

Countering Republican Arguments - Part One

There are many questions to be asked of those seeking the Monarchy’s abolition: with what would we replace the Monarchy? Would we elect or appoint the new Head of State? Who would decide this? What would be the financial cost of changing all government department names, removing all references to the “Crown”, “Royal” etc?  What are the potential constitutional and legal implications?  We recognise the Sovereign as the source of power and legitimacy -- how would the legitimacy of the new head of state be established? Without a Sovereign, how would the state be represented and personified? And, most importantly, how would the abolition of the Monarchy improve the nation?

Our ancient system of government has been an example to the world. Mature and civilised nations do not vandalise and destroy their institutional and national heritage. When the states of Eastern Europe threw off the communist yoke they immediately resurrected their historic institutions and national symbols. They appreciated their importance and understood their value in establishing national identity, a sense of pride and a sense of place.

Monarchy is Anti-Catholic
It is true that the Act of Settlement, 1701 discriminates against Roman Catholics but this is hardly the fault of the Crown. It was an elected, democratic, anti-Catholic Parliament, disturbed by the Crown's tolerance of Catholicism, that enacted the Act of Settlement and insisted upon its acceptance. The accusation of religious prejudice, if it must be placed anywhere, should be with Parliament.  It is not for the Sovereign to amend the Act of Settlement or alter the anti-Catholic provisions of the law of succession – this is Parliament’s job. 

The history of the modern Monarchy has been one of warm relationship with Roman Catholics. Edward VII and George V protested vehemently against the practice of opening a new Sovereign’s first Parliament with an anti-Catholic statement of belief and they insisted upon its amendment. Our own Queen enjoys a close relationship with Roman Catholics and bestowed the Order of Merit on the late Cardinal Hume, one of the highest honours she can confer.

Repeal the Act of Settlement
The Act of Settlement, 1701 would be difficult to repeal or amend as it is no longer exclusive to the British constitution; for it also regulates the succession to the throne in all of The Queen's Realms and is equally a part of their constitutions. These realms each have their own separate and independent legislatures and, for those states that have patriated the law, any change made by the Westminster Parliament would be of no force or effect insofar as they are concerned.

Were the British Government to decide to unilaterally alter the Act of Settlement it might lead to a situation whereby the line of succession to the throne in Britain differed from other Commonwealth realms, possibly resulting in a different Sovereign for Britain than for Canada or Australia. The seriousness and significance of this cannot be overstated. Indeed, to guard against this possibility a convention was established via the preamble to the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which clearly states:

And whereas it is meet and proper to set out by way of preamble to this Act that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown, it would be in accord with the established constitutional position of all the members of the Commonwealth in relation to one another that any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom

In other words, for the sake of the unity of the Crown, any change to the Act of Settlement will require the unanimous consent of the Parliaments of all the Commonwealth Realms. As a preamble the above quoted passage cannot be cited as an enforceable piece of legislation, nevertheless it has been held to be a binding convention. Britain cannot act unilaterally if it wishes to retain the unity of the Crown. If the Act of Settlement is ever amended or repealed it is imperative that any change be enacted, concurrently, on a multi-lateral basis by all of those Commonwealth Realms for which the Act of Settlement has become a patriated law.   


Npinkpanther said...

Is it also possible, though, for the Realms to change the Succession in regards to their individual thrones? For example if Australia changed the succession to the 'throne of Australia' so that it followed into Prince Harry after Charles? If Harry became King of Australia while William became King of the other Realms?

Michael said...

In practice, are there any Realms which would be tempted hold on to an anti-Catholic Constitutional provision? If not, the problem shouldn't be that serious.