Commonwealth obstacles to royal girl’s right of succession

Technically it would be possible for a daughter to become queen of England, but a younger brother to become, say, king of Canada.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Royal baby girl’s right of succession would face Commonwealth obstacles” was written by Caroline Davies, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 22nd July 2013 08.09 UTC

Parliament intends that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child – regardless of gender – will succeed to the crown. But not all the i’s are dotted or the t’s crossed. And until they are, a question mark, hypothetically at least, remains.

The Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which provides that a first-born daughter will become queen even if a younger brother is subsequently born, will not come into force until all 15 other Commonwealth countries of which the Queen is head of state have also made changes to their laws. Until they do, technically it would be possible for a daughter to become queen of England, but a younger brother to become, say, king of Canada.

Robert Hazell, director of the constitution unit at University College London, said: “The fear is that if all the realms do not make the change then, at some future point the line of succession could divide.”

It happened in the Victorian era. “We borrowed the Hanoverian dynasty and they were, for a century, kings of Britain and electors of Hanover. But when the line of succession in Britain came down to Queen Victoria, that joint monarchy was broken because Hanover still observed Salic law and could not have a female monarch. I can’t tell you who the elector of Hanover was, but it wasn’t Queen Victoria,” said Hazell.

“The UK government and Buckingham Palace want any change in the rule of succession to be introduced throughout the realms. If there were different rules, that could lead in time to different members of the royal family succeeding in different countries.”

In the event, history is extremely unlikely to repeat itself. But the speed with which the succession bill was put into place means it could take up to another year for all the realms to complete the complicated process required, he estimates.

Australia and Canada have faced difficulties because both are federations; Australia requires the consent of each of its six states, and Canada of its 10 provinces. “That is a very convoluted exercise as both their constitutions are notoriously difficult to amend,” said Hazell.

Australia’s states argue that each has an independent relationship with the crown, since before the 1901 federation when they were crown colonies, and they won’t be dictated to by their federal government. Keen to adopt the change to succession, they have reached a compromise whereby, to put it simply, state parliaments will request the federal parliament to change the law.

Canada is proving trickier. Numerous previous attempts to amend its constitution have crashed and burned because of the failure of the republican-leaning, French-speaking Quebec province to agree on certain matters. It was probably the Canadian government’s fear that this would occur again, and it would fail to get the consent of all provinces, that prompted it, in Hazell’s words, to pass a “really minimalist law” in the federal parliament in Ottawa.

“It simply replicated what they did at the time of the abdication crisis in 1936, which, from memory, was a terribly brief law simply recognising the change to the law made by the Westminster parliament, full stop,” he said.

A challenge has been mounted, not officially by Quebec but by a group of individuals mainly from Quebec, to the effect that this is an amendment to the office of the crown, and that is part of the Canadian constitution, therefore requires a formal amendment of the Canadian constitution. It is a matter likely to be fought out at Canada’s supreme court.

For the smaller realms, the difficulty is a different one. “Some of them are really, really small. Tuvalu, population around 9,000, doesn’t have a lot of capacity and when asked to change their law, they probably have got other urgent matters, like whether they’re disappearing under the Pacific because of global warming,” said Hazell.

“I don’t know how many are in the bag, but there have been difficulties with the smaller and smallest ones, just in terms of getting them to do it. I suspect for many of them Britain is a faraway place and the crown is pretty notional.”

The changes to the line of succession have been on the political agenda in Britain for some 20 years, but what made people finally grasp this “knotty problem”, said Hazell, was the 2011 marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Six months later, David Cameron raised the matter at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth.

The whole process could take another six to 12 months, said Hazell. “In the meantime, the royal baby will be heir presumptive because it is the eldest and only child. It is not until a second child is born – and only if the first child is a girl and the second a boy – that the new law will be required. So there is more time.

“The government, understandably, is trying to crack on with it and get all the realms into line, and they hope they might have achieved that by the end of this year, or at the latest by next summer.”

There was no response from the Cabinet Office to an inquiry about the progress of law changes in Commonwealth countries.

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