Succession to the Crown Bill — Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 22nd April 2013.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 3:30 pm, 22nd April 2013

My Lords, I understand that in tabling the amendment my noble friend Lord Cormack sought to put beyond doubt the requirement that the sovereign be a Protestant and in communion with the Church of England. I readily recognise the concerns expressed by my noble friend; at every stage of the Bill, he has clearly sought to find a means of addressing them. I readily acknowledge that this amendment is, to use his words, more modest than those that he moved in Committee and on Report. However, as has been indicated in our short debate, the Government believe that it is unnecessary as both the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement are unambiguous with regard to the requirement that the sovereign be a Protestant and in communion with the Church of England.

The Bill does not pave the way to change that. No one who is not in communion with the Church of England may ascend the throne. That rules out Roman Catholics as well as many other people. I have concerns that by attempting to reiterate this, and to single out the peculiar and particular prohibition on Roman Catholics, one risks causing offence. I am sure that that was not intended, but one does risk causing offence to many of Her Majesty's loyal subjects when there is no good reason in law to do so. I do not believe that we should put into a Bill words that could cause unnecessary offence and reopen wounds. It has also been said that the amendment is unnecessary in law and could therefore lead to other jurisdictions that have responsibilities in this regard putting forward amendments and unpicking an agreement that has been very carefully constructed across the realms over a considerable time.

As the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the sovereign must be both Protestant and in communion with the Church of England. For this reason, we are not removing the bar on Roman Catholics acceding to the throne, as set out in the Act of Settlement and Bill of Rights. Of course, we have heard expressed in a number of our debates the perceived problem of the heir to the throne marrying a person of another faith. That problem exists under present law; it is not one created by the Bill. Clause 2 merely provides parity of treatment between Roman Catholics and people of all other non-Protestant faiths.

Nevertheless, I have recognised and understand the profound concerns that have been expressed. As the House knows, following a commitment made in Committee, I met Monsignor Stock on behalf of Archbishop Nichols and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to discuss this matter. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford indicated, Archbishop Nichols indicated that the wording had been discussed with the Cabinet Office. I have the specific consent of Monsignor Stock to say that he was speaking on behalf of Archbishop Nichols as president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, and can inform the House that the view taken by the Catholic Church in England and Wales is that in the instance of mixed marriages the approach of the Catholic Church is pastoral. It will always look to provide guidance that supports and strengthens the unity and indissolubility of the marriage. In this context the Catholic Church expects Catholic spouses to sincerely undertake to do all that they can to raise children in the Catholic Church. Where it has not been possible for the child of a mixed marriage to be brought up as a Catholic, the Catholic parent does not fall subject to the censure of canon law.