No plans to amend the Act of Settlement, government says: The Church of England Newspaper, July 9, 2010 p 4. July 18, 2010Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
The coalition government will not amend the 1701 Act of Settlement that bans the monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic.
In a written answer given to the House of Commons on June 30, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office, Mr. Mark Harper stated “there are no current plans to amend the laws on succession” in response to a query from the member for Glasgow North East, William Bain (Lab.).
Passed by Parliament in 1701 to govern the succession of the monarch, the Act required the sovereign to “join in communion with the Church of England” and settled the throne on the Protestant descendants of Sophia of Hanover—a granddaughter of Charles I, and to exclude the Roman Catholic Stuarts from the throne.
The Act states that all who “shall or may take or inherit the said Crown” may not be “reconciled to, or shall hold communion with, the See or Church of Rome, or shall profess the popish religion, or shall marry a papist.”
In 2001 former Prime Minister Tony Blair raised the issue of repealing the Act of Settlement but did not take the matter forward. In March 2008 Justice Minister Jack Straw told the House of Commons that he understood the Act “is seen as something which is antiquated,” while the Solicitor-General, Vera Baird, told the Sunday Times the following month that the “ban on Catholics” ascending to the throne “should be abolished because it is discriminatory.”
On Nov 24, 2008 Prime Minister Gordon Brown responded to a question about the law telling the House of Commons that “most people recognise the need for change. Change can only be brought about by not just the UK but all realms where Her Majesty is Queen making a decision to change.”
However, the Labour government took no action and the prime minister did not raise the issue during the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key reported at the time.
Altering the Act of Succession must be approved by the governments where the Queen is the constitutional monarch and sovereign: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tuvalu.
On July 1, 2010 the member for Rhondda, Chris Bryant (Lab.) pressed Mr. Harper to defend the government’s decision. Mr. Harper responded that altering the law was “complicated,” adding that a “significant number of pieces of legislation” would have to be “considered, amended or possibly repealed: the Bill of Rights 1689, the Coronation Oath Act 1688, the Act of Settlement 1701, the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the Union with Ireland Act 1800, and the Regency Act 1706.”
The Cameron government believed the Act of Settlement was “part of a political and constitutional settlement with strong historical roots. It does not, of course, prevent those in the line of succession from marrying Roman Catholics; it merely means that if they do so, they will lose their spot in the line of succession,” Mr. Harper said.
“The Act of Settlement is part of the backbone of our constitution, and tinkering with it lightly without thinking through all the changes would have unforeseen consequences,” Mr. Harper said.
The “Government are not saying that there should be no change. We are simply saying that, if we are to undertake change, we need to do it in a careful and thoughtful way,” the minister said and should have “consideration for the consequences not only for the Crown and the succession but for the position of the established Church in this country.”