Four years ago, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia, an agreement was made between those 16 countries who retain The Queen as their Head of State that there would be changes to the royal succession laws. Specifically in order that women would be given equal rights to succeed to the throne as men. Four years on and despite an Act of Parliament being passed in the UK, the much-lauded changes are still not yet in force.
Ironically, the hold-up for these changes is down the very state from which they originated in Australia. Part of the Perth Agreement in 2011 was that each of the 16 Commonwealth realms (those countries with Her Majesty as Head of State) would, where appropriate, each introduce their own laws with the necessary changes and that these laws would all be brought into effect at the same time.
While every other realm has either asserted that legislation isn’t needed or that they have passed any necessary changes, the Western Australia parliament has not yet passed the changes. As part of arrangements in Australia to recognise the autonomy of its state parliaments, the Western Australia Parliament must also first pass the necessary laws before the final seal can be given by the Federal Parliament of Australia. Once these two steps are complete, the final move can be made to bring the changes into effect.
The laws will ultimately be effected by The Queen in a meeting of the Privy Council shortly after.
The WA Parliament is due to meet again on 17th February when it is expected to continue the debate on the final stages of the bill before it is sent for assent. Meanwhile, the Federal Parliament has asserted its intention to make the processing of the necessary legislation a priority, which means that the final hurdle might not be as far as we might have expected.
From the Perth agreement there emerged three changes which will eventually become effected.
The first is the removal of gender bias from the line of succession. Currently the line of succession to the British and Commonwealth throne operates on male preference primogeniture, in other words a female child may only succeed where she has no brothers. The changes seek to turn this into absolute or ‘equal’ primogeniture, which will mean the eldest child – regardless of gender – would succeed.
However – to complicate matters further – the clause is not completely retrospective, only those born after 28th October 2011 (the day when the Perth agreement was made) will be affected by this clause.
Secondly was the end to the law which saw those married to Catholics excluded from the line of succession. Whilst actually becoming a Catholic will continue to exclude someone from the line of succession, this change will see some royals returned to their former places in succession including, for example, Prince Michael of Kent.
Finally, the requirement for all descendants of George II to seek the Sovereign’s permission to marry is repealed. There had been a lot of problems caused by this clause, with George II’s descendants numbering in their thousands (and many not being wholly aware of their descent, or this requirement) which technically invalidated their marriages.
This clause firstly resolves the problem by declaring any such marriages to now be valid. It also shortens the scope for consent with only the first six people in the line of succession who need the Sovereign’s consent to marry and, if consent is refused, they are excluded from the line of succession instead of their marriage being invalidated.
An announcement is expected to be made by the British Government soon when the implementation of these changes is to be finalised.