Rule Britannia: Key keeps ban on Catholics in Royal Succession Bill



What is it about the monarchy that makes people abandon their critical thought? Crown Counsel Jane Foster is a case in point. She has advised Attorney-General Chris Finlayson that the Royal Succession Bill, currently before ours Parliament, is “inapt for detailed [NZ] Bill of Rights scrutiny” because “a shared, hereditary monarchy is a core feature of our constitutional arrangements” and “the rules that govern succession are historically and politically complex.” She justifies the “differential [discriminatory] treatment” embodied in the Bill as justified by its “unique context”.

Let’s look at this “unique context”. It goes back to the contestation between Protestants and Catholics in 17th century Britain and the passage of such laws as the Act of Settlement 1700 which excludes from the Throne any who “shall profess the Popish religion or shall marry a Papist.” Generously, the Royal Succession Bill before our Parliament removes the phrase “or shall marry a Papist” but retains the prohibition on a “Papist” King or Queen. In fact, practicing Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists – and even atheists – are excluded from the Throne, because both the Act of Settlement 1700 and the Bill of Rights Act 1688 – both on our Statute Books – require a Protestant monarch.

We could easily legislate an end to this discrimination. It would require a simple amendment to the Royal Succession Bill making null and void all the provisions in these ancient Acts requiring a Protestant monarch and banning a Catholic one.

This is not going to be allowed to happen for a reason that has nothing to do with New Zealand. It’s simply because the British government wants to keep the Monarch as head of its own church, the Church of England, in the tradition of Henry VIII. Our New Zealand Parliament shouldn’t go along with this.

Instead, John Key has been acting as David Cameron’s ringmaster to make sure all of the 16 “realm” countries which recognize the English monarch as their head of state proceed with succession law amendments which are identical to Britain’s.

Any deviation could be highly embarrassing. Just imagine if New Zealand allowed a non-Protestant monarch and Charles converted to Catholicism – or Buddhism. Our tolerant law would then allow Charles to be King of New Zealand, while Britain, with its more sectarian legislation, would by-pass Charles and install William as King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Simultaneously, there would be two different English Kings.

True, the Royal Succession Bill removes gender bias from the succession laws. But if Kate has a baby girl she will still have to get the Monarch’s permission to marry, under a new discriminatory provision in the Bill. In the 21st century New Zealand is going to legislate for compulsory arranged marriage!!

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It’s all rather farcical. Perhaps we should detach ourselves from the English monarchy and have our own New Zealand head of state.

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  1. In 1997 the law had to be changed to allow Tony Blair to hold certain offices inherent in the role of Prime Minister because he was not Church of England.

    Kind of a shame they did thinking about it now…

  2. “Perhaps we should detach ourselves from the English monarchy and have our own New Zealand head of state…”

    Sounds good to me. The concept of monarchy seems to be to have passed its use by date and a republic is long overdue.

  3. So will an MP propose an amendment to bring the NZ succession into line with basic human rights, not to mention NZ’s long-accepted tradition of equal treatment of people with any religion or none? (NZ has never had a state religion and explicitly rejected establishing the Anglican church during the early colonial period).

    There is actually no problem with divergent successions. William IV was king of Britain and Hanover. Queen Victoria was only Queen of Britain, because Hanover had different succession rules (Ernest Augustus inherited the throne). The world did not collapse (although the Kingdom of Hanover eventually did, being annexed by Prussia).

    Of course, we should really be a republic, and as much as we can shine light on the craziness of hereditary monarchy, the better.

  4. Who would be the new head of state in a republican new zealand, ex business roundtable?judges? And what of the extra expense? No its not the same job as govners general. The very strength of a monachy as head of state is it has a breadth of experience, interest that covers more than the 3 or four year cycle. New zealand is too cosy, and one reason that we have difficulty with having an upper house in parliment. The end result is their is no brake for a rampent government to ram legislation through. Let the head of state set their own rules unless we get to chose them ourselves.

    • The head of state is not any sort of brake – royal assent hasn’t been refused since 1708. If it was ever refused, it’d be on the advice of a coalition PM who wanted to veto a private members bill that had the support of the house.

      The simplest form of republic is one where the PM is head of state. Don’t like the current incumbent? Don’t vote for them. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than having whoever happens to inherit. Would you go to a hereditary dentist?

  5. Damn! I’ve always wanted to be the King! Alas, as a Catholic – that particular career has always been closed to me.

    Get a grip. There are lots of reasons – debateable reasons – for abandoning the constitutional monarchy. This has to be one of the lamest.

    • For those like Cato interested in the broader debate on the monarchy two useful sources are the Republican Movement website ( and material produced in 2009/10 relating to my private members bill, the Head of State Referenda Bill ( Although my Bill was supported by Labour and Green MPs and Peter Dunne in the First Reading vote it went down 68-53.

  6. Occasionally Key makes a useful contibution to NZ politics by accident – this time by highlighting to anyone who didn’t already know it what a farce the whole monarchy business is. Anyone who thinks the monarchy is benign and non-interventionist should look at the direct influence Charles has had on politics in Britain. Thank goodness he’s probably forgotten we exist!

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