Succession to the Crown Bill — Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 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) 3:45 pm, 22nd April 2013

My Lords, I certainly understand that my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath has had serious, profound concerns about this Bill which he expressed even before Second Reading. I recognise the persistence and diligence with which he has continued to raise these issues. I am grateful for his kind comments and I think he would recognise that the comments and concerns he has raised have been given proper consideration.

It appears to me that my noble friend is concerned that, in allowing an heir to the Throne to marry a Catholic, this Bill would contravene the promises that each sovereign is required to make to maintain the established Protestant religion and in some way subvert the Bill of Rights or the Act of Settlement. It will come as no surprise to my noble friend that I disagree with his view, as I have made clear on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House. Again, I want to make it quite clear that we are not amending the provisions of the Bill of Rights or the Act of Settlement which say that the sovereign has to be a Protestant.

My noble friend Lord Eden of Winton put his finger on the point. Indeed, I wrote at some length in my letter to my noble friend Lord James about the sovereignty of Parliament in the case of Jackson v Attorney-General in which the House of Lords considered the Parliament Act 1911. The late Lord Bingham said:

"The bedrock of the British constitution is, and in 1911 was, the supremacy of the Crown in Parliament ... Then, as now, the Crown in Parliament was unconstrained by any entrenched or codified constitution. It could make or unmake any law it wished".

With a former Lord Advocate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, present, I had better say that there has been some question about that in some respects in Scotland following the dicta of Lord President Cooper in MacCormick v Lord Advocate. Nevertheless, Lord Bingham expressed that view very clearly in the Jackson case.

Given that the prohibition on the sovereign being a Catholic remains, we do not believe that there is any conflict between the Bill and the Accession Declaration or the promise made by the sovereign to preserve the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. I do not think I can really elaborate on it. My noble friend and I are going to have to agree to disagree because we believe that there is nothing in this Bill which subverts the Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement or the oath which Her Majesty made on her accession. In the circumstances, I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.